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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
Conducted by Howard Barrell,
London, February 7 1990
[Side A of tape of interview starts off with, in fact, overflow from side B of tape. This is the result of the tape recorder automatically switching back to side A at conclusion of side B. Nothing important of the beginning of the interview was lost in this error. Rather, at the outset of the interview, in the small portion of side A which has been overwiped, Barrell agrees to two requests: one that the interview be seen as Goldberg's own individual account and opinions, not as that of the ANC; two, that any names of other living individuals mentioned by Goldberg be treated as confidential and not for publication unless Barrell gets permission from the individuals concerned for mention of their names.This transcript of the interview has been recorded in such a way that it appears in its proper order (see p 23).]
Can you please tell me what positions you held in Congress Alliance and related organisations over the 1960-63 period? What your role was, if it was specified as an official position?
First, of course, I was in Congress of Democrats, not the ANC, because that was the structure of the time, and you know that. So we must get that right, because it would be anachronistic not to correct that. I was in COD in Cape Town. I was on the Cape Town executive which, in effect, was the Western Cape executive. And, at various times, I was chairman and treasurer and so on. I'll think about other organisations for the moment. Well, that's about it. The real significant change came with the emergency in 1960, where it was possible to sit down and think and argue and debate.
You were detained during the emergency?
I was detained for four months, although the emergency ran for five months. And at the start of the emergency, just before it, the citizen force had been called in to surround the township, water supplies had been cut off, food supplies had been blocked.
This is Langa and Nyanga?
Langa and Nyanga. And I was on a committee planning the shipment of food into the township, in fact got home at around midnight, just before the arrests in 1960, having planned with others, a truckload of food to go in. And we were then detained. So it must have been March 30 of 31 -- I can't remember the date anymore. Before that, Albert Luthuli, after the shooting at Sharpeville, Chief Luthuli had burned his pass and called on all others to burn their passes, all pass-bearers. And I was involved that day in driving around the Western Cape to carry the news with little leaflets -- you know, 10 to a folio page -- so that you could get them out quickly, being smuggled into townships, having meetings and so on.
That would have been March 24th I think?
Is that the day? Yes, I don't remember the exact day.
I think that was also the day Luthuli called for the Day of Mourning for March 28th.
Yes, it was immediately after the shootings at Sharpeville and Langa. And what date was that?
That was March 21.
That's right, and so it was after that. The news had come through. So I met lots of Congress around the Western Cape in different townships, little squatter settlements. Of course, I don't know that the response was.
To your pamphlet?
To that leaflet.
What was the leaflet actually saying at that time?
From what I remember, it was a very simple few lines statement, saying Chief Luthuli has burned his pass and calls on all Africans to burn their passes too in protest against the shootings at Sharpeville and Langa.
So, there was no mention in that pamphlet of this call for a Day of Mourning on March 28, as you recall?
Not to my recollection.
So that would have come presumably later then. Can you give me an estimate of how many copies of that pamphlet went out in the Western Cape?
No, not at this stage. If you want me to thumbsuck, I would say 10,000. But I don't know why I say that. It's just a sense.
When you say that would that be because at the time that would've been the normal print order on a pamphlet?
Well, these were duplicated on an old Gestetner duplicator, perhaps a few lines, there must have been strips about two inches wide, how many to a page, how many to a ream, something like that, you know.
You say you were trying to get food into Langa and Nyanga. At that time, from public accounts that I've read, it seems that the PAC people, Kgosana and Nana Mahomo, were really the key sort of leadership or the dominant leadership at that time in the Cape Town black townships. Were you dealing with them?
No, we were not. And the reason we weren't was that they were issuing food on production of PAC membership cards. And we found this absolutely outrageous. We would not have behaved that way because the ANC had always been rooted in the people as a whole. And it was partly to combat that, and partly to combat the attitudes of those groups -- Patrick Duncan, the Liberal Party, the Kremlinologist of his newspaper, Eulalie Stott of the Black Sash who was very firmly anti- the left in the ANC, horribly so, there was a terrible grouping there.
Would Randolph Vigne have been there, too?
He would have worked with them, but I don't remember Randolph being as hostile. He was part of a group and he worked with them. I didn't know Randolph very well. I don't remember him being outspokenly hostile to the left. There was a grouping -- Benjamin Pogrund was one, but he was in Johannesburg at that time, I think -- but that kind of grouping. Just to go back a bit, when I say this about the PAC, there had been actual physical fighting, particularly in Langa township, because the PAC had left known ANC members alone in its drive for membership (but) it then started demanding membership from people in Langa; they would wait on Friday night for people to come home with their pay packets, and demand membership fees. And would demand their passes; they would make a mark in the pass to say they had paid their PAC membership fee. And people were outraged by this: using the dompas as a means of controlling membership in the PAC. Eventually, they started tackling ANC members. And this led to an actual showdown where PAC bused in people from as far afield as Beaufort West. The ANC members identified themselves -- some came from Stellenbosch, and one name I remember was Mogadiso, who had been in the Treason Trial, a man with hands as big as a brick, who was involved in that. The ANC members identified themselves with cloth bands -- little pieces of cloth tied around their arms -- and the local populace helped them in that showdown. And they actually physically defeated the PAC members.
Can you give me a date for this confrontation?
It must have been during 1960. It was after the Treason Trial releases. And I can't remember when Charles Mogadiso was released from the Treason Trial. It might have been as late as 61 or 62.
Because the Treason Trial is still continuing when the Emergency is declared.
That's right. So I am not sure of the exact year. I would say 60- 61. What else did I do? I was involved on the joint executives of the Congress Alliance. My role at that time was very much that of, can I say, an organiser, not a public speaker, in fact I had been instructed not to speak in public. As soon as you developed any skills (as a public speaker) you'd be banned. I was an organiser. I created the platforms for others. I used to raise money. I would arrange printing. I would arrange physically for the platform -- the loudspeakers and so on. So that Grand Parade meetings were large meetings. And so on.
Now, when you say Congress Alliance executives, those would have been in the Cape area, or nationally?
No, in the Western Cape, in each region there were monthly or more frequently, as required, meetings of the executives of the members of the Congress Alliance.
And you would have taken part in those?
And, one last thing on the food distribution, what would have been the mechanism of the food distribution you were involved in? Would it have been through local ANC structures in the townships, or through churches?
No, it would have involved ANC members. There would no doubt have been political prestige attached, but we were very clear that there would be no attempt to discriminate against people who were not members.
(break to get coffee)
Right, so you were on Congress Alliance executive for the Western Cape. As I remember in December 62, there was a bomb in your garden in Cape Town, according to Rivonia Trial evidence, anyway, and then, in May 63, according to Rivonia Trial evidence, that is when you go up from Cape Town --
May 8, I think.
May 8 1963 is when you go up from the Cape to Johannesburg. What I want to know is when do you become involved in the armed struggle, in what capacity, and what is the trajectory of your involvement?
In 1961, over (the period of) South Africa's expulsion, resignation -- whatever, South Africa had been forced out of the Commonwealth -- a referendum was to be called, a general strike was called and it was suppressed. Of course, it was called a stay-at-home in those days. Or, put it this way, it was partially suppressed. My job at that time was to argue for the stay at home. I can remember going out to Worcester with publicity materials for the stay at home, to deliver to the underground ANC executive in the big location at Worcester. Now, I couldn't simply drive into the location; I had to go to people in the town (and, again, anonymity please) went to the Dawood's shop (Aisha Dawood had been on the Treason Trial) -- that was the recognised way of making contact in the township. Her brother took the shop's van, closed panel van, I lay on the floor in the back, and he drove me to the house that I was going to in the township. The comrade's name was Busa (spelling), an ANC member, whom I had actually met before, secretly, in a meeting beside the road some years before.
Is he a confidential name as well?
I think it ought to be -- I don't know how you are going to check it. He's inside South Africa. He was one of the executive. I just happen to remember his name. And I met the Worcester executive of the ANC, who said that, in 1960, the people had taken such a beating and had simply been replaced in their employment by coloured workers that they didn't think they could call the people out again. More than that, they also needed time to prepare, to lay in food supplies, and so on -- because there were infants and children who had to be looked after. They would talk about it, but they were quite convinced they couldn't do it. Now that would have been towards the end of March, no, no, May 61, end of, yes, May 61. In Langa township, the response of people was, if you can tell us the Coloured people will come out on strike -- because they had been partially, they felt betrayed by Coloured people in 1960, that was their word. And more than that they said they had taken a beating in Langa, where, as you know, the township had been surrounded, and they had been driven out to work at baton-point and gun-point, they weren't sure that they could do it. Have we got an army to protect the people? I know that, for a long time after that, I had been arguing that, whenever we went out -- even if it was flyposting, and you got arrested for flyposting, or for leafleting and so on -- the need was to plan in very disciplined, call it paramilitary ways, if you like. People needed to be fit. You needed to be able to run away from the police. You needed to know your area. And, if people didn't obey these rules, they got caught. Because they didn't work carefully enough. They took too many chances. My wife got caught that way, with others -- Sylvia Neame and, Ill think of his name, a journalist, he's in London now. So, my thinking was already turning to this. And what is striking -- to abstract for the moment -- what is striking about the armed struggle in South Africa is that it emerged organically. It wasn't a case of a number of intellectuals sitting down and saying: It's time we set up an army so that we can have a focus of armed struggle and therefore people will rally to it. It literally grew out of needs. So that, with that stay at home, the policy of the ANC was very clearly non-violence. There were people in CPC and COD in Cape Town -- there was no Indian Congress but there were a few Indian comrades who floated around -- some comrades wanted to go and bomb the buses that serviced Athlone and Langa and Nyanga, the Golden Arrow bus garages. Somebody came running to me, saying this is what is going on. I then chased around to find the CPC executive, which had gone into deep hiding. I knew my way around, I knew who to ask and, eventually, I found them and presented my report and a decision was taken that they had to be stopped, although everybody was reluctant, because the mood was: if you can stop the buses running, the stay at home will be successful. But it was stopped. But already, you see, people's minds were working this way. The semi-crushing of that stay at home throughout the country -- you know the military was mobilised, all police leave was cancelled, they patrolled townships with machine guns on those armoured cars, and so on -- people's minds were already turning to it (armed struggle). So that, after that stay at home, as Nelson Mandela said -- in that interview that has been carried many times -- we had to start thinking of new ways. It was important. And I know, for myself, wherever I was, I was arguing for this need. We had to be prepared to engage in an armed struggle: if people were going to be shot, imprisoned, detained, the military was to be called out, we had to be in a position at some stage to respond. And this was in response to what the ordinary people were saying. I believe that, had we left the organisation of Umkhonto to later, we would have been too late. It would have become totally sporadic and harmful politically. Had we done it too early, we would also now have had support. It's also at that stage that Nelson Mandela goes abroad. And, on his return, I met him, and he was with Walter Sisulu. We met in a private person's house again (anonymity, until you've checked with him) Brian Bunting. There were others there, but I must admit, I don't remember who they were. I could guess, but I don't actually remember.
About how many others were there?
I guess there weren't more than about 10 of us, in which Nelson reported on his travels, the prospects for military training and military supply, what our attitude was to it. And I can remember putting the question to Nelson Mandela at that time -- in which I said: You talk about seizing power, when you talk about using force against the force but only to the extent that it's needed because we are not wedded to force, at what point would you say there has been sufficient victory. And I explained myself by saying: What happens if the regime, although we would have said the government in those days, if the government says, OK, African people can have 20 members of parliament, what happens if they say 50 members of Parliament, what if they say 50% of the members of parliament. He said: Well, we will have to see. We will have to see what the mood of the people is. Are people prepared to go on struggling? Because, if the regime is forced to that point, maybe they would concede totally.
But already, there was in my mind -- and in others' mind -- what were the limits of armed struggle? I happen to remember my questions, not other people's. They can tell you their questions.
Can I just stay with this meeting? Can you put a date to this meeting, a month?
You know, I never know if it was 1961 or 62. It was before Nelson Mandela was arrested on the road between Durban and Howick. That was in 62. So it was in 62, because it was in that countrywide tour that I met him. And I think he was arrested in September -- he was sentenced in September 62. So, it must have been earlier in the year.
I'll dig up that date in a moment.
The dates will come out in the Rivonia Trial.
Is this meeting mentioned in the Rivonia evidence?
No. But other meetings are from the state witnesses.
Mandela is arrested August 5 of 62.
I would guess (the meeting) must have been June or July.
Now, by that time, if it was June or July of 62, then armed struggle was already underway. Because MK had been formed in 61.
No, it can't be (62). Maybe he saw us before he came back, before he went abroad. When did he go abroad?
He had been underground for 17 months by August 5 62. That takes us back to about 61, about April, March.
I'm sorry. It's confused in my mind. We must have the date of that tour. I would love it if you have it.
I think I should have it. I have here a reconstruction of that period. Now, in April 61, Mandela visits PE ANC to overcome local ANC resistance to implementation of the M-Plan. That's his national tour, in April-May 61, by my recollection. Mandela leaves SA illegally to travel abroad in January 61.
Yes, and returns?
A six month journey, returns in about June 61.
Yes, it's before December 61.
So, in fact, it's before MK makes itself public?
Yes, yes. I knew it was 61 actually. (laughter)
Great. Right, well that's a considerable help.
Is there anything, any events which you can think of, which would give (the meeting) a more precise timing in the second half of 61?
Not off hand now.
But it would be after his return secretly to SA?
I think so, yes.
Great. Now, at this meeting with Mandela, Bunting, Sisulu; it's in Cape Town is it?
Now what is the thrust of Mandela's line, the brief?
It must be after the semi-crushing, the semi-success of the stay at home in May 61, for three days at the end of that.
After the first day?
Well Luthuli went on the air to call it off. So, I think it must be after that. So, I reckon it's the second half of 61. It's somewhere around, I would say August or September, because I know there was a very fat document produced as a report on that stay at home and various things, like some of the things I talked about -- the police threat of violence and the unprotectedness of the people. And also the over-optimism and the subjectivism of those reporting on the state of organisation. People saying: Oh, we are going to have 100% success here. And, in fact, there wasn't such a possibility. A very long analytical document.
Do you remember what it is called?
I don't even know who issued it. I don't even know if it was issued by Congress or somebody else like the CP.
But it was an analysis of that stayaway and its relative success.
I think it was a congress document. In fact, I know it was a Congress document. It must have been 50 or 60 pages long.
Can you suggest who would be the best person to try to get it from or to discuss it with?
I can't think off-hand. Tom Lodge? (laughter)
Tom doesn't refer to it. I've been reading his stuff a lot. I'm thinking who was around at the time.
Maybe Brian. I mean he's a journalist, a writer in the movement, and so on. I just off-hand cannot think of anybody.
So what does Mandela say of the requirement for new methods when he meets you in Cape Town?
From what I remember, he put forward straighforwardly the need for an armed struggle. The arguments for them he rehearsed in his Rivonia speech. We've all rehearsed them, you know them. That every avenue has become closed. And the final evidence for that was May 61. Where the state mobilised all its forces. Perhaps I should also say that, in my interpretation, throughout the 1950s, there had been repeated challenges at a political level to state power: the Defiance Campaign, the Western Areas removal campaign, things like that where Congress grew stronger numerically and in tightness of organisation, the regime introducing more and more legislation and more and more police violence, to each successive political challenge. And there really was a too-ing and fro-ing of the balance of political power at that time. And then the crushing, through the full mobilisation of the weight of the army and the citizen force, and the cancellation of all police leave was the final proof of their utter determination to maintain power by force. Therefore the need, the need to engage in sabotage and to build from there as it became necessary. And it was quite clear to me that such an outfit was being organised from the way he was talking. I wasn't invited to join at that stage. And the final decisions were taken in Johannesburg, and, as you will know from your reading, there were Congressmen who were opposed to it, particularly the more conservative elements in Natal.
No, I am talking about ANC provincial executive people.
That comes through very clearly in Rivonia evidence.
That's right. And that's one of the reasons why the underground army was not established as the ANC's army. It was an army of the people set up as a separate organisation which pledged itself to be responsible to the political guidance of the Congress movement led by the ANC. Because there were members of the ANC, very senior members, who simply would have no truck with it. But if Nelson wished to go ahead with others -- and there were CP members involved -- in setting up such an organisation to wage an underground armed struggle, they would not oppose it, but would not accept responsibility for it.
Now we are right into the area that I want to deal with, and I just want to go through my questions in a systematic way. You've dealt to some extent with the factors that convinced some people that armed struggle was necessary. On this issue of necessity, I want to take up one formulation which comes up, again and again, because it has enormous bearing on what happens subsequently in the development of the ANC activities. It is: You say, Mandela does in the Rivonia trial, and it comes out in other documents: either that "every avenue had been closed", that there was "no other way" than to adopt armed struggle. Now, I can see how people are saying rhetorically: Look we have no choice but to add an armed struggle to the various means we were employing. But what seems to happen is that people adopt a more literal translation of that and almost end up behaving as if armed struggle is the only way forward, to the detriment of continuing political organisation and activity.
There was a wrong emphasis, which I want to tell you about. At some point before December 61, before Dec 16th -- I don't know if it was two months or three months before -- I was asked (anonymity) by Fred Carneson to join the regional command of Umkhonto we Sizwe. They needed a technical officer.
This is Cape Region?
Western Cape Regional Command. You are an engineer, Denis, we need your technical skill. Will you join. You must know the risks involved. And think about it. And my answer was: What's there to think about; I've been arguing for this for a year; yes, of course I'll join; when do we meet? It was literally like that. I can tell you we were sitting on a bench near the Art Gallery in the Gardens of Cape Town, feeding squirrels for cover. (laughter) And that was it. I was then involved in it, and introduced to somebody who's dead now. His name was Tolly Benun (spelling). He was from Port Elizabeth. He was an industrial chemist, mining engineer at one time, had done quite a lot of research. He had a private business in PE. (He introduced me to) a simple technique of bomb making. There was one thing wrong with it. The timing device didn't work properly. It either went off in your hands -- and in that first operation, somebody lost and arm and one was killed, in Johannesburg. Mine went off 24 hours late, and I was quite relieved. The only one that was in fact planted. And I was relieved because the person who planted it, George Peake, was actually betrayed, and the police were waiting for him. But that's just anecdotal stuff. The point is, arrangements having been made to set up training bases abroad and to send people abroad as in Algeria and various other places, there became a duality of channels. Umkhonto we Sizwe had its own channels of communication. We would be told: Your region needs to send 20 men on such and such a date to Johannesburg to go out for training. And we would look around very carefully as an MK regional command: who are we going to send? We are not going to destroy the political structures. The ANC had its structures. The ANC youth league had been also illegalised. So there became an African Youth League. One of the people involved in that was Martin Hani, who's now Chris Hani. And, when he arrived from Fort Hare, he made a tremendous difference to that organisation in its political line, in its organisational abilities and so on, to the point where they were having seven weekends every week in the Western Cape black townships, not on the Grand Parade, but in each township, building structures and organisation. And they didn't need people like me to hire the microphones; they simply did it themselves, which was tremendous. It was what we had worked for for years. But, at the same time as we were carefully selecting people to preserve the political structures, a parallel instruction would come down the ANC channels, and they would send 40 people, without thought. So, you are right in saying, there became an attitude of the armed struggle is the thing, and it takes precedence over everything else. Now we fought this from the regional command, continually: you simply cannot behave in this way, because from any elementary reading of all the books on guerilla warfare, it is an extension of political struggle, and it requires political structures, one, to guide the struggle, two to provide recruits, three, to provide the base within the people, to protect the armed struggle, to give information and so on. We were very aware of this. Now, why did it boil over in the other way? I suggest out of a sense of despair. But maybe "despair" is not the right word. Frustration. Everything we had done had been smashed, and the regime, in the interrogations of 1960, had gained so much information that it became very difficult to operate, and that resentment boiled over into: We can set off bombs, we can take them on, we can finish them off. And at that point, I think we began to diverge from the intention. You see the thinking at the time as well was that we should be planning to develop out of sabotage of symbolic targets and some economic targets (like substations, powerlines and railways) to the point where we could stretch the forces of the state, the security forces; that we would have to be able to coordinate in a region or nationally, or both. Attacks in the towns, they would be forced to move their security forces in en masse; we would then have to be able to attack targets in the countryside; and there are thousands of miles of cables and powerlines and railways, and maybe police stations one day. So that they would be stretched to the limit. Now, we seem to have departed from that. It became a kind of armed propaganda without preparation to develop into the next stage. So that, for instance, in Cape Town, I was on the regional command, we placed our emphasis not on explosions -- because we felt we needed to train people or for people to train themselves (none of us were experts), to train themselves in the simple aspects of military activity: reconnaissance, approach to a target, how you attack the target, how you get away, how you don't reveal yourself to your neighbours. So, for instance, we bought a length of rope, which you could simply throw over telephone lines (those above ground, on the poles), and two men could wipe out the communications of the whole of the Boland. They went further. And there was just a piece of rope. And we even went to the extent of, having bought the rope, cutting both ends of it so that it could not be tied to the end of somebody else's roll of rope, in a store somewhere, you see. And they learned lots of things in this way. They then found that where the main underground trunk cable ran from the Cape Flats to Johannesburg, and they would move in with a shovel, and simply dig it up. And, with an axe, or a pick-axe, cut through it, and bury it again. Now, it is true that the Post Office can fix it within a day, but the effect of it was - No noise, no reports in the newspapers, no explosions; but the police started drafting in police vans, loaded with police, from all over the Cape Peninsula and at dusk our comrades would watch them pulling into the bush on the Cape Flats, the Port Jackson bush. Police vans from Belville, Parow, Goodwood, all the suburbs of Cape Town, all the way out to Simonstown, detailed for that duty. And they would wait for the cops to settle down for the night, and they'd nip in and do it again. This is what we meant. This is how we understood it. And that is what we think should have happened. There also came a stage where we in the Western Cape Command organised a training school. We would meet two nights a week and on Sundays, all day. People would come to a training class where we would go through a session of physical training, with the help of a famous weightlifter/ bodybuilder. Not so much because we felt that people who had worked hard and tired had to do this. It was part of trying to move away from a civilian approach, to have a different frame of mind. But, at the same time as we did that, we could have a lecture in the evenings in history of South Africa and of the struggle. We had a matriculation history teacher
(end of side A)
A history teacher, talking to young men (there were no women there, I must tell you) most of whom had no more than standard two standard four education. He was teaching history at a matriculation level, without any concessions. And the interest in it! They wouldn't let him stop. But each night, we would have a session of first aid. People began to learn about physiology from the Red Cross handbook. If you are going into military action, you must know these things. We taught them, I taught them, simple electrical circuitry. People had no knowledge, none of the things that white kids had, where at the age of 13 you were playing with batteries and switches and knobs and radios. They had none of this. And, within about two hours of tuition, they were able to build circuits from schematic diagrams, a pictorial diagram, rather than a formal electrician's drawing. And to trace faults in them. We taught them how to use duplicators, because you can't do politics without publicity. We even taught an illiterate man how to type, because he could recognise block letters, and how to operate a duplicator. He didn't have to write the leaflet; he had to be able to produce it. This was phenomenal. We would organise fundraising functions, and it would operate with such precision. You're on duty on the gate from 8pm to 9pm, and you'll be relieved and you will be in the bar and you will do this and be a guard and, afterwards so-and-so will stay to clear up and ... it was incredible. And we built such an esprit de corps. I mean this seriously. Absolutely phenomenal. And a level of commitment. It was quite outstanding. We would also go on climbs up the mountain. What we were looking for was not just physical fitness. We were looking for people who had leadership ability. And we would create situations of stress in our limited ways and our own amateurish ways -- and they were amateurish -- where people would show whether they could encourage others, whether they could pull the others through or not. It was very tiring up the mountain. We had someone who knew the mountain to lead us. We weren't taking silly chances. I know I got stuck in a chimney once, and they had to haul me up on a rope. That's fine; I'm glad somebody got stuck -- I'm sorry it was me -- but I'm glad somebody got stuck because it taught others the need to work as a team. I remember once we went for a march, from Belville out to Mamre and back, and I must admit I chickened out, I got a lift back to my car and the others, the African comrades, just kept walking, to the manner born, as they were. I had blisters, they had no blisters. And these were essential lessons for all of us, you see.
Can I pick up on some of these things. The one is the training classes. How many people, from the time of your joining MK, what, two or three months before December 16, and Rivonia, your period in the Western Cape command, how many people passed through your training classes?
Oh, that particular class must have been about 20 strong.
What would have been the entire MK complement in the Western Cape over the period of your involvement?
I'm buggered if I know. I couldn't even hazard a guess. These weren't all members of MK, by the way. I must add one more thing. We also approached some comrades -- you know people would approach me for some reason, on the assumption that I must be MK (I don't know why they did) and say they wanted to join (or) Denis, there's a target down at the bottom of our road. And I would say, why tell me? But, of course, I would pass it on. And amongst those were some whom we did approach to join MK, but not to be active. Their task -- and they were very distressed about it -- was to be the spotter of recruits. But they had to stay active in their political structures.
In order the better to (recruit) as well?
But it was essential. I am trying to say that I don't know what happened in other regions. But our approach was very clearly: this is part of a political struggle. We are not militarists. But also, it was purely pragmatic: how do you find people? How many members (of MK in the Western Cape)? It's difficult to know because Paarl operated on its own when it shouldn't have, and so on. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say 50.
In Western Cape?
In Western Cape. It is just a guess. Squads of five, perhaps 10 squads of five. Like that.
So, these training classes were more ANC, general Congress, than they were specifically MK?
Yes, and they were done -- it was clear to people that it was under the auspices of MK without it ever being spoken. Nor was it ANC. It just was -- a kind of ad hoc thing. You see that led to our training camp at Mamre.
Which is the one that gets brought up at the Rivonia Trial?
Yes. You want to go into the details?
No, I don't want to go into the details. I want to know from you: this was one such training camp?
It's the only one that's ever been held inside SA to date. And it is known as the first training camp inside South Africa.
So what's his name -- I forget the name of the man who let you down, who gave evidence at the Rivonia Trial...
So he was substantially correct in his evidence?
Oh, yes, it was not a boy scout camp. It was an MK camp. No, it wasn't an MK camp. It was organised on the same basis. We wanted to know who we should recruit, who was reliable. We wanted the idea of a disciplined approach to our political work and the need for the community to work in support to be spread. Hennie Ferris was there from Worcester -- he was killed later. People knew that this was military training. When the camp had been broken up, then immediately Looksmart Ngudle -- the first to die in torture -- drew the guys up into a military pattern, form threes or whatever you call it, and he devised new commands. He didn't know how you start a quick march. You know: by the left, quick march, sort of thing. And so he would get them to mark time, but with one foot only, which had a relationship to gumboot dancing and an African tradition, rather than a European military tradition. And from there, at a certain point, that foot would go forward, you see, and you would be marching. It was absolutely wonderful. I mean we drove home singing "Amajoni" (spelling?) -- "I'm a soldier". We dropped the guys off at Langa, and they formed a platoon and marched into Langa, beating time on a paraffin tin. They were proud to be soldiers of our people. This was the mood.
Now, you mentioned 20 people being involved in training classes. Would this be 20 people involved over and above those involved at Mamre?
I don't know that the people at Mamre were the same people. Some of them were, and I can't tell you how many. It was rather sad. Mamre was supposed to be for 50 people. But mainly members of CPC who had been invited didn't come; very few came. James April, by the way, was one of those at the class.
The other classes?
Where were those classes held? In a house?
No, they were in a hall above a shop somewhere in Athlone. I still don't know whose it was or how we got it.
And how long did that series of training classes in this hall above this shop last?
It must have gone on for three or four months.
What period would that have been?
Well, it all came to an end in May 63, when I left home to go underground. I would guess late 62. You see, I don't know if it was before the camp, which was the end of 62 or after. I think before the camp. I must tell you something about Mamre. Again, the political lectures were important, and Albie Sachs gave a lecture. There was another point where, at Mamre, ...
(interruption in tape)
I must recall something to you at the training camp. A discussion with Looksmart, who came from the Alice district. And a remarkable leader of men, really. We should start thinking about setting up bases in rural areas. We need to train people in the use of firearms, but they are not to go in with the intention of starting an armed struggle. The chiefs and sub-chiefs and under- chiefs and headmen all have their home guards. The need is to go in to re-establish yourself -- whoever goes in -- find people you can work with and who are trustworthy, to set up a political nucleus, to establish lines of communication with the regional command area -- Port Elizabeth, East London, Cape Town, whatever -- but from the inside out. Not attempting to penetrate from the outside in. Because, how do you know. You rely on family networks, loyalties built up in a lifetime in an are. And I know that some time after that -- I don't know the month or year -- except that it must have been December or January -- and it was after the camp...
Well, the camp was December 62, so it must have been by the end of 62 -- now, you see, it doesn't fit -- at some point I had a meeting with (again confidentiality) Fred Carneson and George Mbela (spelling?) and they fetched me from my annual holiday, and it was the building industry so it must have been January, and therefore January 63, I think, where I put forward this view. I had put forward this view, and Fred Carneson told me, No, that's out, because there is something different coming. And in January of 63, I was told about Operation Mayibuye. Some such concept. Which I still believe was flawed in that it required development from outside in and not from inside out. Nevertheless, of course, I took part in it. You have a high command, you have a military hierarchy, that's the way you work. I just want to say there were different concepts being talked about at the time. I don't know how many other concepts. I know what I was involved in.
How many people were there in the Western Cape command? The actual command structure?
I think four.
Are you able to identify them?
Well, I've identified three so far.
Which is you, Fred Carneson,
Looksmart Ngudle, Barney Desai
Who was CPC and went over to the PAC?
Yes, I don't know if he wants to recall those times or not. And there was one other and I can't remember. And I've been wracking my brains. Oh, I know, I remember: it was Archie Sibeko. And Archie eventually got caught with leaflets, ANC leaflets, and fled the country the day his appeal judgment was to come out. He actually fled with Martin Hani. And my red sweater ended up wherever they ended up (laughter).
Is Archie Sibeko still around now?
Yes, he is. He is not called Archie Sibeko anymore.
Can you tell me what he is called now?
Yes, Zola Zyembe.
But you must preserve confidentiality.
Have no fear on this.
All right. I mean we can go home as long as there are no crimes investigated against us.
That I understand. It should only be coming out in two years time. And by that stage, things should be very clear. I should have had more than enough time to clear things.
Now, what was the portfolio division, the division of responsibilities in Western Cape command?
There wasn't particularly, except that I was technical officer. It functioned as a committee, rather than as a general, a brigadier, etc. We didn't have ranks. And, just for instance, at the Mamre training camp, I was asked by the organising committee -- which wasn't done in the name of MK, it was done in the name of an Ad Hoc group of Congressmen -- the committee asked me to take charge of the camp because I'd been the motor, the drive force in it. I thought Looksmart should have been. But they insisted and Looksmart was on that committee. And so, when we all met together at our camp site, I simply said: I've been asked by the committee to take responsibility. We will have sergeants. There are all of us, and there will be sergeants. In each tent there will be a sergeant. We are going to be here 10 days. After five days we'll switch. Again, looking for people who could take responsibility and could lead. And they said, Yes commandant. Comrade commandant. And I said: No, but I'm just a sergeant like anyone else; we don't have these ranks, we're not Idi Amins or whatever -- if he was around at that time. And they said, Yes, comrade commandant. It was again the mood, you see: We want to be soldiers and we want to fight for freedom, and we want a military hierarchy. I think it's important to grasp that. It was a mood deep-rooted within the people. So, there were not ranks. I was just the technical officer.
Who chaired the committee, or headed the command in the Western Cape?
I think the convenor was Fred Carneson.
Now we move into a delicate area, but it shouldn't be any more delicate than what we have been discussing. What was the regularity, or the means by which you kept in contact with the High Command in Johannesburg?
I honestly don't know. I was not the communications man.
Can you push me in the direction of ...
Well I suppose we were meeting at the time once a month, once in two weeks at various times, and there was always something new coming down. So there were regular means. I don't know how
But if one said monthly or fortnightly, that would be reasonable?
Yes, but it would have been more frequent than monthly. But I don't know how frequently.
In the structure of MK in the Western Cape, there was this parallel ANC structure. There was also the African Youth League, Chris Hani and others. Now, what was the liaison in the region itself, in the Western Cape, between MK and ANC political?
Simply the overlap of membership. For instance, Looksmart was on the regional executive or the Cape Town executive of the ANC. It would have been like that. Simply a duality of membership, because it was not a formal relationship, not ANC.
Now, was there any tension between ANC political and MK in the Western Cape region?
Only to the extent that there was, I believe, an over-commitment to the military solution as the solution in the political sector, whereas in the military command, there was a very careful and constant attempt to assert the primacy of the political, and that, in the end, armed struggle was to mobilise people and, in turn, depended upon the mobilisation of people. So, if there was a tension, it was that. We would do our nuts when we found out that our recruiting officers had been shipped off.
Who had themselves been recruited because of the parallel command?
Because of the parallel command. And we were told we were being too conservative. Why aren't you using explosives? No matter how we explained. Why are you not using explosives?
Where were those criticisms coming from? National High Command?
No, from the political sectors.
In Western Cape?
Yes. Particularly because PAC was getting more and more militant with the panga attacks and things.
Now where was the parallel command coming down through ANC political command in the Western Cape for recruitment coming from? From Western Cape ANC political leadership? Or from national political leadership? What was the origin of this thinking in the political?
I think it was pretty much a national feeling. What was happening I think is that the MK High Command would find that we were not giving them the numbers that they thought was necessary. And so they would send a dual message. But also it could have been -- and there you would have to get to High Command people -- it could simply have been the duality of membership. And people would use whatever channels they had.
So then Western Cape was, in fact, over supplying on quota for recruits?
No, they were saying we were undersupplying.
MK Western Cape and MK political together were oversupplying whereas MK Western Cape alone was undersupplying?
But there was, in fact, this duplication leading to oversupply?
Yes. We would manage to say, You can't have 20, you can have 18 who we have picked. And they would say, We want 40. And somehow 40 people would go.
Were they (the political) sending people to Johannesburg separately?
Yes. It would just happen. They would find people in Paarl and Worcester and Wellington, and off they would go.
Outside your control?
Presumably leading to some dangers on security?
Well, many of them were caught on the way to Botswana. You know, it's easy to criticise in retrospect, but we were actually having this argument at the time.
Well, Denis, I have nothing like this depth of experience, but in a very peripheral sense, I have similar experience. I know how these cock-ups occur, and it is a-historical just to look back (and criticise). So that is why I am trying to stay within this time.
That's right. I'm not sure it was a cock-up. It was simply that we had a longer term view of the nature of an armed struggle. It wasn't a quick fix. And the solution to the conflicts are not military conquest but seizing political power. The military element is a component. And it cannot be independent.
We are going to come to that debate in a little while. You've explained how this necessity for military struggle resulted in some sense from a certain despair amongst people.
I do want to correct that word to frustration.
Veering towards -- you see: How the hell do we do anything?
I want to suggest something. And I would like you to respond to it. Was there perhaps a psychology at the time also of a requirement for drama, a certain kind of --?
We want big bangs>
Yes, we want big bangs.
Yes, it goes with the idea of armed propaganda. And attacks on symbolic targets. We were not dramatic. In the end, in the end, the headquarters sent somebody down to train our people in the making of gunpowder. It was actually Elias Motsoaledi.
He's done his time now. But, nevertheless, it was Elias. And it was a funny story because we had to meet up on the edges of Table Mountain, just beyond Oranjezicht. And you didn't go by car because you would be traced, so I went by train, and then I got on the right bus, and I saw a very dapperly dressed African, with his Homberg hat, and I thought, My God, that's a Special Branch man. So I got on upstairs. He was from Johannesburg. He got on downstairs. And, when I got off, I got off one bus stop early and took a different route from what anybody else would take, and he was still sitting on the bus. And I found my way to the place, and there was Fred waiting in a pine grove, and after a while, this dapper little African walked up too. And he said, Oh, it's you, I thought you were a Special Branch man following me. (laughter) It was very funny. That was when I met him (Elias Motsoaledi).
When would that have been?
Sometime before May 63, but in 1963. And, what's more I then had found some Potassium Chlorate, enough for him to show them how to make gunpowder. How to make the charcoal, how to -- and I had to get it to him. And somebody met me. I walked off a railway station, he walked on. I then went off to watch some football and I passed him a box of wheatbix and I passed him a bottle of peanut butter. And, inside the bottle of peanut butter was a bottle of potassium chlorate. And when he got this to where they were meeting, he gave it to Elias, and he said, You can't make gunpowder with Peanut butter. And they said, Denis is not playing games, you'd better look in the peanut butter, and there it was. (laughter). It's not historical. But the point is that you couldn't just give somebody a bottle of potassium chlorate. It wasn't a huge quantity. It was enough to play with.
I want to return to this business of drama versus achievement, long-term political-military achievement vs drama. Was there any -- Did you feel at the time of yourself or of any others of your comrades in MK or in the political a certain romanticism, a certain dramatic romanticism over the notion of involvement in armed struggle? A bravado almost?
Well, as I told you, people, and mainly in CPC, would come up to me at parties and say, Denis, at the bottom of my road there's an unprotected substation; it would make a wonderful target. And I'd say, That's exciting; why don't you do something? Why do you tell me? And they said, Well, we thought you would know who to tell. Aren't you the person? I became known as Mr Technico in Cape Town. If it was silk-screening, if it was printing, if it was duplicating, fixing -- midnight, Come out and fix a duplicator, we are running off a secret leaflet, on an open phone! -- so, that was the reputation. And this happened. The point I am making is not to say I was Mr Technico. There was a mood: I want my substation blown up. Everybody was looking for targets. Not everybody -- many people were looking for targets. There was an excitement. There was a delight taken in every successful action. And, therefore, we did seem sleepy in the Western Cape, because we didn't have explosions. We simply wiped out the telephones. And you might get a one-line report, you see, if some journalist was prepared to take the risk. New Age would report it sometimes do it because Why did they know and nobody else? So we used to phone everybody.
So you used to inform people?
We used to inform newspapers, but they wouldn't touch it. But I wouldn't overstress that. I really think that people felt a need to be protected. And they took delight in the fact that the movement was able to hit back. But it was a sense of hitting back. There was no sense at the time of, We are on the road to seizing power. I think, I think. Those of us who were deeply involved in planning had a longer term perspective.
So, you didn't find yourself in the Western Cape command having consciously all the time to fight what you could identify as a kind of romantic bravado among -- ?
No, we took a very sober view that this is a long haul. We need to train people because we are not going to throw lives away unnecessarily. We were starting small. We wanted people to train themselves, and to be trained properly, through experience.
In the Western Cape itself, were there any elements in the ANC or in the Congress Alliance who made known the fact that they disagreed with the resort to armed struggle?
Not to me.
Did you hear of any second hand?
I certainly don't remember it at the time. It was a different mood. It was a different mood.
Now, in that mood of the moment -- 60,61,62 -- you have lots of people suggesting targets to you, there's a certain excitement, it emerges out of this frustration to some extent because of the defeats that have followed the non-violent struggle. Were you at the time distinguishing between two things: a rhetorical support for the notion of armed struggle which people can come out with relatively easily, on the one hand, and secondly people's willingness actually to actually become involved in this armed struggle at a mass level as it unfolded? This is a distinction --
I am listening very carefully to the question. I can't say that people were flooding in, knocking on the door saying, I want to be a member of MK. What I do know is that recruitment was not difficult. People would be asked: We've picked you, because we think you are good. Will you take part? Yes. There was this mood, as I say, that we need our own people's army to protect the people in the event of a general strike and so on. I do know that some people, as I have said, whom we approached to be spotters but to stay in their political positions were bitterly disappointed that they couldn't be involved. They wanted to be involved. And they wanted to go out and take part in actual military activity. There was a willingness, and there was no difficulty in random recruitment to send people for training. And it was random as far as I could see. We maybe had an elitist approach at the beginning, because we reckoned security required that and, to repeat, the long-term need of building up a cadre of experienced military activists was absolutely vital. We were not talking about a standing army. We were talking about a people who would go and do their day's work but at night would operate like a militia and go to work the next day to avoid detection. And who would be part of the community and be protected by the community, while protecting themselves from the community, not divulging.
Was there any feeling at the time that you were being elitist?
No, I don't think so. It wasn't the word. What I am saying is, I don't know about other regions. It wasn't a conscious elitism. It was a sense of this is something new. We've got to find our way as a command. You're sending people into terrible danger -- I mean their lives are at stake, literally. It's true it was only the explosives act at that time. But the police weren't going to draw distinctions: they would beat the shit out of anybody. And we didn't want that. It was that sense of responsibility to those we were sending into action. It wasn't fear. It was a sense of: We were new and untried ourselves and untested. We must know what we are doing. I mean I can remember going out with Looksmart and reconnoitring how we could hit the marshalling yards in Cape Town, not to damage passengers and trains, but how do we stop the system from functioning on a working day? What do we hit? And finding, looking for ways of ingress and egress. Very seriously -- not just, Go and do it. What do you do? How do you approach, how do you get out? How do you train for it?
Now, were there any criticisms within your own ranks, or debates, committee meetings, or meetings of the command, and which people said, Listen guys, are we going about this correctly? We are a small group, Have we got enough popular involvement? You know I read something the other day --?
I don't remember such discussions. Maybe I was too closed off to it, and involved in the technical things. Maybe not too involved in the political, listening, and being very careful not to reveal myself.
Now, so far, what we have been discussing has perhaps fallen under the question of why did you think that the armed struggle as necessary. What I want to move to now is the issue of feasibility. You were staring out on a long road. What were the various factors which convinced you at the time that armed struggle was actually a feasible path to take?
I think the assumption that there was support from the populace at large. And that, whatever problems arose, we could solve them. That the essential element was maintaining the political support groups, and it would be the political solutions to the military problem that would enable us to get through.
Now, this is in retrospect. Maybe that was a romantic view. We weren't looking for friendly borders. We were simply relying on the fact that South Africa is a huge country. And that, if we could move people in and out of the towns, and have rural groups in the rural towns of the Western Cape, maybe all the way up to Beaufort West, or something like that, we would be able to hit in different areas as though we had a huge force, and that we could divert the police who wouldn't want to expand too rapidly to having to investigate in this area, and then hit in another area. To keep them on the hop. To stretch them. The concept at that stage was, I think, very political -- of stretching the resources of the government and their security forces in keeping with what became the manifesto of December 16 61. That it is a political struggle: We are taking up arms to show you that the people of South Africa are determined to have power. And that the choice is with the white regime. To either escalate or sit and talk before it's too late. I think we thought in terms of a political struggle of which the armed struggle was a component. And that manifesto makes it very clear that it was that. When it came to Operation Mayibuye, we had already reached the point where the regime was clearly not going to wear that. They would test us to the limit. And so we had to get larger and step it up. And maybe the sending of so many people out of the country was -- if there has been an error in the strategy, (and) I believe there has been, it's personal, and I believe we foresaw it in the Western Cape -- we were sending out our best cadres, political and military. And how the hell do you get back again. The need was for them to be there, to take part. Later, maybe we need an officer corps, maybe we need people who can come back, not go into action but train, teach the skills which we were feeling for from books, discussion and so on.
At the time, from your experience at Western Cape command, when you went up to Johannesburg, were there any people arguing against this particular business of sending people out of the country who were often your best people?
Not to my knowledge. Well, you know Operation Mayibuye itself was predicated on three thousand men under arms in the country, and another 7,000 militia under arms -- the three thousand scattered in some proportion in the different provinces. So, it envisaged the trained men coming back
To constitute a basis --?
To constitute that basis. And I think there was the problem. Because you could not move in an out by that stage quite so easily. And you would give yourself away immediately. Foreign mannerisms, clothes and so on. We should have foreseen that.
But you can't recall significant -- ?
No except, as I say, for the alternative view that I know about that we need to be building bases throughout the country and, on a political basis, to be able to receive trained people and to maintain communications. And if you can feed people with reams of paper and stencils and duplicator ink, and they can receive that safely, then you can also shunt people and their arms in. But that was too slow. I was told that was too slow. It's got to be much faster than that. There was an impatience.
Where did that injunction come from? The High Command in Johannesburg?
OK. Was this a fairly general feeling, as far as you are aware, among people in the Western Cape Command? That they were being pressurised to move faster, to --?
I think some in the Western Cape Command welcomed that.
But you personally felt that -- ?
I still maintain it. I mean, there I was, having designed a handgrenade with out primitive high-explosive and having to go out to a beach to test it. And wondering if I would get caught. I didn't. But I thought the whole bloody mountain would come tumbling down above us. Christ, what an explosion! Really, it was a wonderful device. Technically, it was so simple.
When was this?
Early 63, I reckon. I wonder if the little shards of my grenade are still lying around. I was going to collect them.
They have probably been sold as bushman implements! (laughter) Denis, can we go back to the actual decision in favour of armed struggle. In the literature that I have been reading, preparing for the interview, and in no cases do they give a precise attribution, it is said that at a SACP meeting in mid- 1960, a decision was taken to go for armed struggle. It was in 1960, mid-60, CP. Now I know that CP is an area on which people are reluctant to talk. But I would like to ask you, if you can tell me, where you aware of any such decision having been taken in 1960 and in what terms was it taken?
I don't know. I don't know. And, from my knowledge of the times
(break in tape -- end of side B: See p 1 of this interview for explanation)
could have been taken, but I suggest it was in the middle of 61, rather than the middle of 60.
Because, what the literature says is that the CP took the decision in 60 whereas the ANC took it in mid-61.
It was after the emergency and the ANC, and ANC members, after the stay-at-home in 61. I never heard of such a decision.
Are you now talking of the CP decision?
Yes. I never heard of it. It doesn't mean it wasn't taken.
OK. I would just like to clarify this. It's a delicate area. You are widely accepted to have been, at any rate at that time, a member of the CP.
Am I widely accepted as so? I wonder if CP members assume that. (laughter)
What I am trying to establish is: had such a decision been taken and had you been a CP member, you would presumably have been expected to know of it.
I presume such a decision would have been communicated to membership -- unless it was so sensitive that they decided to keep it at that level. I mean I can't understand why any organisation would take a decision and then keep it secret. But I could propose a reason and that is that the CP has always acknowledged the ANC as the leader of the struggle for national liberation, and might not have wanted to appear to be a ginger group within the ANC. People who I have known who were members of the CP have always been very careful to avoid giving that impression, and of appearing to be a faction within the ANC. And so people -- you were quite sure from the way they spoke -- who must have been members would take different views on issues in ANC discussions. Will you switch off please.
(ends of sides A and B)
I'm not aware of when formal decisions were taken. Maybe I was politically naive. I didn't really care in those days who was taking what decisions, what the formality was. It's never been an approach of mine. I don't know why. I didn't have a proper sense of history -- that somebody would ask me about it one day. I was part of that era -- in which clearly I was not the only one talking -- I was not on a national executive committee and I would not have been on a central committee. I worked in my region. And my attitude, I must tell you was, when I went to Johannesburg, I didn't simply walk in on leaders and say, I want to talk to you. One, I thought they were involved at a different level of activity -- I was young. Two, I very consciously tried to avoid the stereotypical behaviour of white South Africans in the movement -- of assuming, if you went to Johannesburg, you automatically had access to Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, because you were white and they would give you time. Maybe I've been too reticent in my time. Maybe I had more to contribute. But I think it is a matter of style. There was a need to acknowledge in one's own personal beliefs and conduct that the ANC did lead the struggle, and to accept African comrades as leaders. You would argue like hell for your point of view. But, in the context. So I didn't get involved in the gossip networks and those in the know. I never tried. And I was also very conscious that these were dangerous times. I grew up in a left household which had been raided by police I don't know how many times, my own and my wife's home had been raided after we got married. I just didn't want to know things that weren't for my ears. Other people did. I didn't. I just didn't want to know -- it was dangerous. Maybe it was stupid of me not to know -- I may have been misled. But I've never been afraid to make my own judgments anyway. So, if I sound passionate here, it's because I've heard comrades, even now, say they were active and their task was to teach -- I'm talking about white comrades, communists and non-communists. My attitude was I had to learn. I never lived under apartheid; I cam from the good side of it. I mean the evil, good side of it, the outside of it. I had to learn. I had intellectual training. Maybe I could help in that way -- I did. I did study classes and things. But I had to listen. So, if I don't know these details, it's not because I wasn't involved. I didn't want to know what I wasn't supposed to know. It was dangerous.
Now, if we can stay on the ANC decision in 61. Are you aware of how this decision was taken, and are you aware in what terms it was taken, and in what terms was it communicated to people like yourself?
Well, it was formally communicated to me when I was asked to join. But, with Nelson Mandela's tour of the country, it was quite clear that there were people who had come close to the decision that the armed struggle must be embarked upon, and that it was after the stay at home in 61, and Nelson's tour. And I am sure it was after the stay at home -- but I could be wrong -- that the issue was sharpened. I described incidents to you. It was quite clear that Nelson was involved in setting up the structures to wage an armed struggle. It was equally clear he could not do this on his own. It was not communicated to me formally that we are going to do this. It was a question of, Can we resolve the political issues surrounding undertaking such an armed struggle without causing dissension and division within the ANC itself, fatal division, within the political structure. So that, by September of 61, which was within a month or two of the decision, from what I could make out -- and I heard in retrospect -- but at the time, as far as I know, the decision was taken round about July 61.
That seems very much to be the conventional wisdom.
You see. And I was asked to join August, September, because you needed technical people. And I had technical knowhow. I don't think it was ever communicated formally, and it was not announced that MK existed to general members and Congress as a whole until December 61. It was dangerous to know these things. I never told anybody.
At the time that the decision was taken, and at the time that you were asked to join, which is two or three months before December 61, had there been, or did you see, rather, any sort of documents outlining, at that stage, a theory of revolution in the South African context?
No. What surprises me, from reading, is how little attention was paid in the days of the old Communist Party (CPSA): I mean if you look at its 1946 and 1948 programmes, called "We, The People", there was no sense of a move to the seizure of power. It was to demands for proper housing, and health and welfare, and a more decent capitalist system. The communists would eventually talk about wanting a socialist system with power and so on. But there was no sense of a plan to seize power. I was very young in those days. Maybe I didn't understand it all. In 46 I was 13 and in 48 I was 15. But that's my very clear recollection. And Time and Life Magazines were equally clear. They had an article on communists worldwide: Sam Kahn's the Number One Communist in South Africa, but if you look at the programme of the Communist Party it's like a liberal social democrat party anywhere in the world. It was the Americans who were saying that at the height of the Cold War. I think again, I must reiterate, the armed struggle emerged organically from within the movement itself and from the demands of people and from the attitudes of activists in response to that. I'm absolutely convinced of it. I don't think anybody sat down like -- who;'s that Frenchman with his foco theory?
There was nobody, to my knowledge, who sat down and wrote a tract, and said, This is how we will have an armed struggle. And it's the opposite of that, and this is why I say it was organic.
But now in retrospect -- if we can look back in retrospect now -- might we not have to say that this need having arisen organically, should the Party or the ANC not have expected of itself at the time that it formulate --
I tell you what we were all reading at the time. We were reading about the Algerian war. Ten million people, a million colons, a foreign army of occupation, a real colony, not what later came to be called "colonialism of a special type". But that was, I think, the one that impressed us most. We kept seeing parallels. Of an elite working class, of an internal Algerian elite of the working class, a vast dispossessed peasantry -- if we have peasants in SA, that's another argument -- and so on, you see. That was the reading.
You obviously would have been following it in the newspapers -
And Cuba, of course. And what we didn't know about Cuba was that they had an army variously estimated between 1,900 and 2,100 guerillas at the time they marched in, or rolled into, Havana. We thought they had tens of thousands of men. At least I did. Can I tell you something which you might not know? Nelson Mandela went through some basic training in Algeria, and he had talks with the top Algerian military man. I can't remember his rank, Colonel or General?
It wasn't Boumidienne was it?
No, it was a military man. He was handed over to a military man, who asked Nelson about the future, as he saw it, of the military struggle if he was going to lead it. And Nelson said it was the Cuban example that was the one that impressed him: 12 men landing in a boat, hiding up in the mountains. And the Algerian said: Have you looked at a map of South Africa? Yes, said Nelson, he knows the country. Well, where would you hide, asked the Algerian. And, in the end the only place would be the mountains of Lesotho. And the Algerian Colonel said: And what will you do from there? There's not a population centre or a key area of the country within reach. It's a huge country. And you must recognise the military and air potential of the SA regime as against Batista. So you can't take that as an example. Nelson told us when he reported back -- he told us at that meeting, to my recollection -- was the need for us to think very carefully, that we couldn't just follow other people's examples. On the other hand, there was the view -- and I have a feeling that this came from Joe Slovo, but that is sort of analysing afterwards -- that you've got to remember that the Boers fought a guerilla war for three years in country and terrain that are said to be unsuitable. My abstraction from that, in much later reading, and that was Basil Davidson, is that war terrain, guerilla warfare terrain is political terrain as much as it is physical terrain. The Chetniks, not the Chetniks the Titoist forces, had guerilla forces in the Danube Basin, which is as flat as hell -- because the local farmers and townsmen would provide the protection, would dig false wells, would hide them. It's a political terrain, I've always believed that. So that there were possibilities; this is what I am saying, depending upon the mobilising of people. But I think that is what we envisaged.
I want to explore this at length. This is a key point. But I must go and have a pee.
Is this of interest to you, by the way?
This is of crucial importance.
Have you not got it elsewhere?
I've looked at some stuff which has indicated this Cuban and Algerian importance, but I really want to go into it.
At our training camp, one of the books we had was Castro's Cuba.
No, it was a pamphlet. It was probably whatever the newspaper was that took over from The Guardian was called, Advance Publications. If you write to the Security Police, they will find you a copy.
Brian might have one?
Brian might well have it.
And it was called "Castro's Cuba"?
Yes. Called by an African comrade, or one of the youngsters at the training camp, who gave evidence, "Xhastro's Xhuba"! (laughter) It have Elias and Andrew and me unending fun. Because, you see, it meant he didn't remember the title. The police had shown it to him. And our lawyers didn't pick that up. It didn't matter -- the book was there -- but we felt it was important.
So this was an internal, a South African-produced pamphlet?
Yes. And it dealt, what, with the war experience in Cuba? It dealt with a country which was divided much as ours was and had been under colonial occupation. But it also dealt with how 12 men had landed from a motorboat called Granma, and etc.
Now, you had this pamphlet, you had obviously newspapers --
I think we had Guevara's book on guerilla warfare.
That I have and have been reading.
Most of us were quite impressed with it. But I know the Chinese instructors rejected it for our guerilla recruits.
That we being sent out at that stage?
Yes. Because they dismissed it; it didn't fit with their experience. Which was quite a wrong approach: there needed to be an analysis. But what was important in that book for us in South Africa, without any friendly borders at that time, was the way in which an internal guerilla force, hiding up in the mountains and making forays, would be supported by urban militias, and how an organised working class movement, trade unionists, could relieve the pressure on the guerilla forces by going on strike. Now this is a variant of this military stretching of security forces, and therefore of the primary of the political over the military. Because political action can relieve pressure on the military, and military action can draw off police and security forces from beating up workers and smashing strikes.
Do you remember yourself reading this Guevara book at that time?
Oh yes. Oh yes.
So it was circulating quite a lot among people at the time?
Oh yes, it was a prized possession.
Let's stay with Cuba for the moment. Can you remember any other books or pamphlets of any depth which you read at this time?
Well, of course, there was Castro's speech from his trial for the assault on the Moncada Barracks. I can't remember the detail anymore. And there is one other thing I remember reading aloud to comrades at this camp. It's a short story by John Paul Sartre called "The Wall". The wall was the wall against which executions were carried out by the Francoist forces. And it's one of Sartre's existential pieces about a man who is captured and tortured and told that he will die unless he gives information as t o where his loyalist compatriot is hiding, armed compatriot. And finally, he reaches breaking point and he says he is hiding in the crypt of a tomb. And he gives that because he knows the man is not there. Because the man had said he was going into hiding with relatives in the country. But what he didn't know was that the relatives in the country had had illness and all sorts of things, and he had had to retreat from there and go back to his crypt. And the Francoist police find this man and come to tell him that they will not shoot him because they have found the man. And he breaks into hysteria and breaks down and he doesn't die. But he is destroyed. In other words, security and loyalty is important. Now Looksmart Ngudle was captured because a team of trainees were caught on the way to Botswana, and one of them broke down under torture -- and I am not commenting on breakdown under torture, because people do break down with modern techniques especially -- he broke down and he said where Looksmart was because he knew Looksmart wasn't there, because Looksmart was moving when the recruits left. They didn't know Looksmart had influenza and didn't move. They captured Looksmart. And Looksmart was murdered. So, you know, there was a sense of trying to out of literary knowledge, out of reading -- I mean I have been reading since I was six years old, and others as well -- of trying to make up for the fact that I've never been a soldier. Of trying to live myself and others into this situation as an act of imagination, so that you are prepared for situations. We actually read that.
Now Algeria -- you had Press reports, Mandela had been there -- what reading was there on it?
There were pamphlets about the Algerian War, published in English, on Algeria.
Do you remember where they originated from?
I think there was also one by advance publications. I think that's what they called it. I'm quite sure there was stuff on Algeria. I don't remember titles anymore.
Books, do you remember reading any books on Algeria?
Not particularly. I know I did, but I don't know what. You see because there was this huge protest movement in France after all, and New Age, Advance, whatever the newspaper was called, would have been carrying reports. And I mean, I knew then of ordinary Algerian people, and women, carrying explosives and so on. And I don't know when I read about the tortures conducted by the French intelligence, and the sheer brutality of it. But it was in that period that we started, hence the need to read this short story of Sartre.
Can you remember any literature on Vietnam, or any other national liberation struggles which you were referring to?
61-,62,63: Vietnam wasn't so important.
It had just started emerging in fact.
Yes. That's right. So I don't remember it. What I do remember was the shock in the emergency of 1960, the former Belgian Congo erupted and the West went in under the guise of the UN forces, and there was that fighting. So that played a role. The sense of: even if you have got power, you have to be able to defend it. And they couldn't.
You are talking about Lumumba and so on?
Yes. Yes. So there was that need. I mean there was an awareness of armed struggles in general. I think, to a large extent -- and we might have been misled -- it was a funny thing that people of the Left, the generation of Wolfie Kodesh and so on and which therefore influenced me -- were far more aware of, say, World War Two, the Spanish Civil War and so on, than of developments in Africa itself. It was the Algerian War, what happened in the Congo, which forced home which forced home the necessity of looking at things closer to home, in societies and social conditions more nearly the same as ours. So guerilla warfare on the Eastern Front in World War Two, in Eastern Russia, this was the great fight against fascism, which was equated with apartheid, which people knew about.
Can you remember any literature from the Soviet experience in World War Two, or from Tito, or from China which came into the country at that time and which constituted a significant influence?
Oh, there were so many World War Two books -- the Soviet Union was the ally of the West, the Great Red Army was the example for everybody of tenacious fighting -- innumerable books and publications. I just don't remember which.
Can you remember any books of that time, on the Soviet Union, China or Yugoslavia, dealing specifically with the issue of guerilla warfare?
I don't remember, no.
Can you remember any Chinese influence coming into --?
No, not particularly, except that I can remember we had men who were training there. And I know some of my comrades, whom I met in the trial, were quite distressed at the dogmatism of the Chinese instructors, who simply rejected every experience but their own in an utterly dogmatic way. Cuba was of no relevance, Algeria; only their way. Sone of the things they said, in retrospect, were right. You make your own explosives, you make your own landmines and so on.
And the Yugoslav experience, can you remember anything coming from that?
It was -- I don't remember. I mean I grew up with an awareness of these things, and the kinds of books and novels about Tito and his forces were just part of my being. I don't remember books in particular.
If we can go back to Cuba, which is very important to the kind of thinking I am developing on what happened in this time, if we look at the Guevara book: Although he doesn't put the position nearly as starkly as Debray does about the Cuban revolution, Guevara, in a sense, emphasises to a large extent, the role of the elite revolutionary centre, the armed band. Now, the way in which MK organises itself -- and there are many good reasons for that, security etc, as you have outlined -- the way in which MK organises itself as a small group, the way in which to a significant extent political work is ignored -- do you think this owes anything to the way in which, in the Guevara book, there is this emphasis on revolutionary centre, the armed centre?
Nice thesis, nice thesis. I am not sure that one can substantiate it. Because I don't know of formal discussions of that kind which took place. What I do know is that there were arguments about whether in Guevara's view the existence of an armed force itself helps to create a revolutionary situation. Or whether the armed force is just one factor within the totality of what constitutes a revolutionary situation. What I remember being discussed out of Guevara's book is specifically his attitude to terrorism and the assassination of leading enemy figures, where he rejects it totally, with the odd exception that, if there's a regional governor or military commander who is so brutal that other military commanders and governors will not be so outraged by the man's enforced demise, his liquidation, and to convince such governors that they must not tread that path. Because, says Guevara, there are always plenty of brutal governors and military commanders to take their places and the response to that execution would be even more brutal. You have to be absolutely convinced, and you have to be convinced that the populace at large will understand the reasons, and accept the retaliation for such an execution. That, I remember, was discussed endlessly. I also endless discussions about Guevara showing how -- what was that French armoured car called? the one the police used with its
Saracen, the saracen -- how it could be caught in an elephant trap. Which had to be just wide enough so that two sets of wheels would fall into it. You didn't have to get all three axles, just two axles. And so on. It was that kind of thing that was important to us. I think we rejected -- in the sense that it was not accepted -- Guevara's view that the guerilla force itself created a revolutionary situation. I think we believed in general, at least at the level of theoretical instruction, that it was political factors and objective factors which created the revolutionary situation, and the existence of an armed force was one of the objective factors. You can't seize power without it but just having it doesn't mean that you can seize power. That's the duality of the discussion. That's how I recall it.
Where were these debates taking place -- Western Cape command or National --?
Oh, generally. You know once there was an army, all sorts of people were talking. Everybody -- whether they were in MK or not. And I know that people who were communists were having these discussions. One day I'll tell you how I know. I'm still waiting for instructions.
It's OK. I understand these things. I will return to Cuba and Guevara again, but I want to turn to Operation Mayibuye. You told me that you saw Operation Mayibuye before you left Cape Town -- that's how I understood you?
No, I hadn't seen it. I had been told about it. I was told drop this idea of sending Looksmart back to Alice because there is something much bigger coming, it will be a nationwide thing and will surpass that.
So when do you first become aware of the existence of a document, a formulate document called Operation Mayibuye?
Round about May -- I left on the 8th, 9th, I was there for about five days, 14th -- probably round about May 15th or 16th 1963 when I had gone underground in Johannesburg.
Now, from your recollection, do you know how long, at that point, this document had been in existence?
No, I don't. I know that I joined the logistics committee of the National High Command and Operation Mayibuye was read to us. And at that stage it appeared to be a fresh document that had not been widely discussed, because this was the terms of reference for the logistics department, logistics committee. And notice, we called ourselves committees. It wasn't the logistics command and so on. And that document, at the time when I heard about it, was still the subject of very intense debate. And the day we were arrested -- on July 11 1963 -- it was under discussion then, and there was opposition to it within the command. Some elements rejected it as being too grandiose.
Can you indicate in terms of personalities who it was who thought this way?
I know that Rusty Bernstein objected to it. He felt that you could not wage such a war on such a scale without friendly borders so that forces could withdraw. And the Greek experience was important to us. Now I recollect.
This is post-World War Two?
Post-World War Two Greek experience, when the Yugoslav's closed their borders and the Greek guerilla forces were put under such pressure that they could never disengage for long enough to regroup. They would retreat to the Yugoslav border and then have to filter along it somehow until they could get out of action. And, in the end it was said, it appeared that this was the turning point in that struggle. And the sense of that Yalta Agreement between Churchill and Stalin began to appal people.
Do you remember what your source of information was on the Greek experience? Were there any particular pamphlets which you can remember from that time?
I think the newspapers. And probably New Age, which would have analysed in more detail, talked in more detail. I would have to see New Age to know exactly where I got it from. But you know, a lot of things are common knowledge within interested circles. You don't read all the books yourself. Some have access, describe and discuss and you accept because you are not in an academic situation at the time -
I know, I have to try to explain this to academics.
I must explain to you -- and you can play this to your supervisor -- I had a job as a civil engineer. I had a family. I was in open legal Congress work. I was in one underground organisation. And I was in MK, which was deep underground. I was constantly dividing my life between these. I was saying to my wife, I need the car on such and such a night, and she would never ask me why. You'd need the car, that was enough. It might have been to deliver leaflets for one underground organisation. Or to meet for a High Command meeting. Or to go out to a legal meeting. Or to do some illegal flyposting. But we simply didn't discuss. There had to be complete trust. It was dangerous. So, with all these things, you know, you are trying to keep up with the theory, you're arguing political theory, one person would read, you would meet in a car, and hold a detailed theoretical discussion with no notes on the move in the dark. So you would have to divide up the reading and the leading of discussions, and accept that what is being presented was a genuine view. My own first experience of this was doing a detailed theoretical discussion of Mao Tse Tung's distinction between antagonistic and non-antagonistic contradictions from a detailed paper with no notes.
And so I know from experience how difficult it was to have an illegal possession of a book and have to find a place to hide it, a place to read it, a place to make notes, then destroy the notes and memorize for a discussion. And it's bloody difficult, believe me. When, as you are talking, you are looking around for being followed. So, if you had a theoretical discussion of political or military matters of theory, those were the conditions.
When did you present this paper? Was that in your Cape Town days?
In my Cape Town days.
After the formation of MK, whilst you were involved in MK?
No, it was long before that.
You said that Rusty Bernstein disagreed with Operation Mayibuye. Can you think of any other individuals who disagreed with it?
Not particularly. I think Dave Kitson, who was on the logistics committee with me, yes, he did. He felt that to try and train 10,000 men within the country was being romantic. He told me about his disagreement after we'd been sentenced -- I'd been sentenced, six months later he had.
He got 20 years, or something?
Yes. But he wasn't on the High Command at that stage. He was on the logistics committee. It's very difficult. People say I was on the High Command, and it would be nice to acknowledge it. My formula is I was on High Command structures, which is absolutely accurate and doesn't claim too much.
Now, what were the arguments against these objections by people like Bernstein and Kitson?
Well, for instance, I were going to produce 210,000 handgrenades and 48,000 landmines, or what have you, whether or not -- and this was said to me quite specifically by the convenor of that committee, who was Arthur Goldreich (again, you've got to clear it with him) -- whether we go ahead with Operation Mayibuye or not, we are going to need to be able to supply our activists, our military activists with munitions. And my response to that was either we have to prefabricate them and distribute them before we really start or I, Denis, as technical officer, have to find simple methods of making these things in small quantities. That's what I really believed was the answer. Or a combination of both. Because big arms caches are easy to find.
Were you involved in any discussions with people like Sisulu, Mandela on Operation Mayibuye?
No, I wasn't. There was a determination to go ahead with it, despite the objections. I personally believed at the time, and actually argued at the level of the structure I was in, that I though this was grandiose, that I didn't think we were ready for it. But to those who said they wouldn't work it, I said: Look, you're in a military structure. Either you accept, or you must get out. You can have the argument. But, if that is the agreed plan, you accept. Your views have been forwarded; they have been taken into account; you can argue it at a different level, at the political level, if you want to bring influence. But you can't drag your heels because that puts everybody else in danger. Inherently, I am a military man. I believe in discipline. I believe in acceptance of orders in that kind of situation. I'm also a maverick. I break commands.
Who are the people, in terms of your understanding, who contributed significantly to the formulation of Operation Mayibuye?
I would suspect -- Nelson Mandela was in prison already, of course -- I would suspect, just from knowing the personalities involved, that the main impetus for it would have come from Joe Slovo. I think he would have been very strongly supported by Govin Mbeki. I think there would have been reservations, but acceptance, from Walter Sisulu. I'm not going to mention anymore names.
My understanding is that, at the time that the document itself is seized in the raid, that it has been accepted by the internal High Command and is at that point being taken or put forward to the External Mission by Slovo and JB Marks. Is that a correct description of its status?
It depends which protagonist you are listening to. There are some who say it had not been formally agreed. And others who say it was. Switch off for a minute please. On the status of Operation Mayibuye, as far as I know, there were discussions going on constantly, whenever the High Command met, as to whether it was going to be formally accepted or not. And, I mean, right up to the day of arrest it was being discussed. By that stage, Joe Slovo had already left, I think -- I think he had left three days earlier -- and you see my recollection at the time was that he said he had a plane to catch which had been laid on and he was going to catch that plane and this plan was to be put to the External Mission. If there is a dispute about it, and I've heard it argued within ANC and MK ranks at the time, I mean of the trial and so on -- not for legal reasons, but simply for clarity -- there was argument that final acceptance couldn't be made until it had been discussed with the External Mission. And I think that often what happens in discussions is that, if there are no formal minutes, minutes that have then been read and agreed at a second meeting, (because, when they have just been written down by the minutes secretary, they still have an element of subjectivity) -- it's only when they have been accepted by all who were present that they are substantially correct, that you can say they are a true record. If you have to rely on memory, there will be those who say, I went along with the position that it should be presented, but in my mind there was a reservation. But others who have pressed for its acceptance will not remember the reservation. They will say, Well, you said I should present it, therefore you had accepted. I think it's one of those things which is almost impossible to sort out. You can't vote on it now -- it's too long ago. I don't think it's an important issue, quite honestly. But, I think in the nature of things, such as the discussion we had on our logistics committee and also on the intelligence committee where I was involved as a technical person in helping them get set up, who because I was underground full-time could set it up for them, their quarters, the sense of whether we went ahead or not, whatever information we gathered, whatever technological techniques we developed for producing weapons, distributing them, refurbishing them (maybe even making sten guns, we were looking at -- they are very easy to make, I believe from a piece of iron pipe. This would be useful. So, if I am told, whether we go ahead or not, indicates that there had not been a final decision. So, therefore, the position taken in the Rivonia Trial, that this had not been fully agreed -- we were still investigating the possibilities. Like, for instance, could we make the weapons? Could we distribute them? Because the acceptance of the plan depended upon those technical abilities. Now, I am not saying that every plan therefore depends on the technology or the logistics but it's an integral element, as any military man will tell you. And which I gather from reading, not experience. So, was it agreed, wasn't it agreed? In outline it was agreed, the need to be able to put into effect what we were talking about, stretching the forces of the state security apparatus, you see, therefore having armed men all over the country. And, if you are going to go into military action, sabotage, attacks on symbolic targets, and if you are going to stretch the police, you are going to have to go into firefights against them. Because eventually, to go into action, knowing that the police will come, and you've got to hit them when they come. Along the lines of classical guerilla warfare, when they attack you retreat, when they retreat you attack. You concentrate when they are weak, etc. So, if you can get a flying column before it is reinforced, that was the view. So, whatever happened, we were going to go into action.
(end of side C)
Is this very rambling?
No, no, you are helping to clarify lots of things for me. If we can stay with Operation Mayibuye. When it is actually captured on the day of the raid, or within a few hours of the raid, there is one indication that something like 100 copies or more had been printed. Are you aware of this?
The copy I saw was cyclostyled, it was roneoed. I don't know how many were produced.
If they were cyclostyled, then it is reasonable to assume --
You are going to be in clover. You can ask Govin Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, all the guys who were there in that meeting.
Sure, I am going to. I will.
It's wonderful now. History can at last be written.
Yes. Now do you remember, in the discussions, the disputes over the contents of Operation Mayibuye whether there was any objection raised to a particular formulation. The formulation goes something like this: that armed action can "spark off mass uprising"?
I honestly don't remember it. But, if it's there, it's very interesting.
Yes, it's there.
I would like to re-read Operation Mayibuye.
Well, unfortunately, I haven't got it with me, but --
But, when I came into the whole thing at that level, at the High Command level, for me the issue was a settled one. We had established an underground army, the manifesto of MK published on December 16 61 had said these initial armed actions against symbolic targets were but a beginning and that Umkhonto we Sizwe would show that it was capable of escalating the struggle to whatever degree was required. That this would be a tragedy but we were prepared to do it, because "there comes a time in the life of a nation, etc" . And, as I say, the argument had been throughout in my mind was that what we were talking about was an armed struggle as a component, an added component to a political struggle. I have no doubt that there were some elements -- from my experience, which I have described to you -- who saw the answer solely in terms of armed struggle. I believed then, as I believe now, that that approach is romantic. And romantic because it's impractical. Just as I believe it is impractical to have 7,000 men under arms in 64, to have worked to that. We could never have reached that pace. But I had no objection to our attempting to do it.
In other words, state your determination and set your objectives?
And, if you could get it by 66, instead of 64. Yes, given the level of political consciousness of our people. And you have to think of what that level was before the Rivonia arrests, and the accompanying arrests countrywide. That the ANC was politically in a position where it could challenge for state power.
Was that your calculation at the time?
Well, I believed that the 50s and early 60s had led the regime into ups and downs of attempting to rule by the normal legitimacy of an illegitimate regime, of what Gramsci would call the respect given to the ruling ideology, the civil force. It was the very fact of the challenge to this ruling ideology which required the regime to steadily increase its repressive forces, culminating in the state of emergency where the regime felt it had lost control, at the political level. That there might be a mass insurrection. And 30,000 people march on Cape Town, and another 10,000 in Durban -- people all over the country -- they were worried. This was a challenge for state power. Make no mistake. This came out of the Defiance Campaign and the building of the ANC to its 100,000 disciplined members. And it went in ups and downs. The life of the "Black Pimpernel", Nelson, underground, had been tremendously inspiring. People were ready for action in all sorts of ways. And, in that context, that added component of the armed struggle could give people the confidence for a mass insurrection. So it wasn't that this could spark it off in the sense that there's nothing there but, if we have an armed struggle that will spark it off -- and have to start building. Mass organisation was there, and people were waiting for action. That was my reading of it. And therefore, that sentence you read was not Regis Debray's later foco theory. Where Regis Debray and Guevara, when he goes into Bolivia -- there is no political organisation, no political infrastructure, and he thinks that by taking in a guerilla force, it will somehow spontaneously emerge. It's not so. And none of us believed that at the time. It was in the context of a mass movement of people who had had enough, but who needed the protection and the leading element of armed force to enable that mass action to take place. And I actually believe that, in the later years, whatever errors were made in the departure from that concept, the very existence of MK and the ANC underground, on the one side, and the regime on the other, created the political space for the UDF to emerge. I really mean that, and I am convinced of the correctness of that analysis. But each time the civilian force -- the UDF, the Defiance Campaign in the 50s reached the point of actually challenging the ruling ideology -- the regime clamped down. It wasn't the armed struggle alone in the 80s that led to the state of emergency. It was the potential for mass insurrection. Where people were no longer prepared to accept the ideology of the ruling group, and included in that ideology is the impregnability of the state forces. Now if, at that time, we had been able to insert our armed force, it would have been over.
You're talking about the 60s now or the --
I'm talking about the 80s. But, in the 60s, remember there was the Pondo Uprising. And that Pondo uprising was tremendously significant for us. Because here was an armed group of people in the rural areas who were able to take control of their area, to raise taxes, to have their own courts, to set up an embryonic state power which had to be crushed. And it was crushed. And we said, Christ, if we had had 50 or 100 armed men, trained to use their firearms (in other words, who could shoot straight), the police would have got a hell of a shock. And that might have sparked something. Because at the same period, or a bit earlier, you'd had the uprisings in the Natal countryside. People had just had enough -- cattle-culling, passes, the restrictions on their movement, the unemployment of the time, and so on. And the effects of those actions was a massive enrolment into Congress. So I believe there were real challenges for state power. So, it's in that context that that armed action on a countrywide scale was believed to have had that potential. I would not agree with your thesis that this is Debray. And Debray wrote later than that, after all.
Yes, he did.
But it's implicit in Guevara's book, too.
But Guevara was a great romantic. It was Castro who had the political realism, analysis. And he was the leader.
Now, on the rural emphasis that emerges in Operation Mayibuye, how much did that owe to the Pondoland Revolt, the kind of Zeerust, the semi-uprisings of the 1960s - ?
Yes Sekhukuniland as well. How much did it owe to Pondoland, this rural emphasis?
I think that was a kind of reinforcement of the view, based on the Boer War, based on Yugoslavia, based on Algeria -- where there was urban guerilla warfare, but a lot of battles in the countryside as well -- a sense that the regime ought to be weakest in that area. Because of the vast areas, it should be possible for well-trained people to take out the effectiveness of the home guards around all the chiefs and the sub-chiefs and headmen as an effective information network for the regime. I think it was that. But also a kind of traditionalist sense that the ANC has never actually sustained its political work in the rural areas. The ANC has always been urban-based, and consciously or unconsciously biased towards a black working class. Even though its leadership has not been working class. But an educated, professional group, religious people and professionals of other kinds. That's my interpretation.
Now, if one reads Govan Mbeki's "Peasants' Revolt", it's very, very interesting. There are two or three paragraphs towards the end where he says the rural areas show this enormous capacity for resilience on our part. Do you remember discussions at that time on either disputes over this rural emphasis in Operation Mayibuye?
No, I don't. You know things become discussed, but they seem so obvious at the time, based on previous assumptions. That this, as I say, was one more reinforcement. Because we had seen rural activity in the northern Transvaal, in Natal, in Pondoland -- everywhere. And the relatively stable life in the urban areas -- deportations, banishments -- I think took a toll on urban people. Don't want to lose that place. Now, there will be others who will dispute this view. I didn't live in the townships. I have to judge by my impressions. I don't remember formal discussions. But I do know, and I must tell you, that the emergence of MK that December 16 was a tremendous moment, even if in some areas we were weak at that stage in the Western Cape, there was a mood of just what that manifesto said. The oppressed have shown that they, too, can use these methods. It was a shot in the arm for all of us. Not just euphoria, not just romanticism. The mood was there. And that's coupled with a sense of, My God, more military, less talking.
Now, when we come to Operation Mayibuye, we have a document which we can now look at. The SACP has come out with the 62 Programme. But, at the time that you were picked up in Rivonia, are you aware of any elaboration of a theory of revolution in the intellectual, formulated sense?
I wasn't. Maybe I became intellectual when I was in prison. I had time to be. And that is a criticism of myself, that. If you mean an elaborated theory of what social forces there were which could participate in a seizure of state power, there was a sense of an urban base of the ANC, of a political life in the rural areas, the reserves (they call them bantustans now, they are still reserves) of a potential for an alliance right across the class and social strata of the African people. That emerged in part from the ever-present awareness of the national oppression of every African person, regardless of class and social position. And therefore the potential, as in any national liberation struggle, for a class alliance -- proletarians and rural people -- it's important actually because proletarian people went backwards and forwards as migrant labour. And we have always looked to that as a source of strength, but never actually built on it. We should have been able to wipe out the preponderance of sub-chiefs and headmen long ago because of that. There are reasons: If you don't behave, you don't get another work permit stamped in your pass book. And so on. But there was a very real sense of political life and potential in the early 60s. That the added weight would lead to an alliance of people, including Coloured and Indian people, particularly Indian workers, and progressive whites, which would overthrow that regime. More articulation than that I don't know. I've often said since I've come out that, in 63 when we were arrested, we knew we could shake that regime one day. We didn't know when. That it has taken nearly 30 years to get there is surprising, in fact, and in that since maybe we were optimistic, if not romantic. Because, what I think we didn't count upon -- I say we, but I am articulating my view and in the light of discussions -- I don't remember discussions about how the state would multiply its own armed forces. And I'm including police and prisons and everything, the army and the citizen force and the Boer commandos, in the way that it did do. Maybe we were too imbued with what had happened elsewhere in Africa. That Western governments would withdraw their support earlier to maintain stability -- Macmillan's Winds of Change speech, for example. I don't think we allowed sufficiently for Cold War attitudes, that we were caught up in the conflict between the superpowers in the way in which we were, and that intensified as the cold war intensified. It intensified during the Vietnam War, but now that wasn't -- we could not have foreseen that. Or we didn't foresee that, and I could not have known that in 63. But the United States in particular and Great Britain could not allow another region to go after Indo-China. And their world was shrinking very badly -- the Western World, its direct control. Their view of South Africa -- I don't think we grasped it sufficiently, I mean collectively -- that they would fight to the bitter end to sustain control over Africa South of the Sahara. And that South Africa was the key point for that. And therefore they would give whatever support they could to the apartheid system to maintain that control.
And your under-estimation of government security force intelligence and security capabilities -- at the level of infiltration and extraction of information? Is that --?
Well, we hadn't had experience of the 90-day law yet. I mean, I left Cape Town -- I left on the day that the 90-day law came into effect. And I left because it was clear my open political activity had come to an end. And my comrades said that they day it comes into effect, Denis, you are going to be arrested. It is inevitable. And, whether they break you, or break somebody else, you are going to sit for five to 10 years -- the minimum was five years. Therefore, you have got some choices. You can stay at home and simply be arrested and go to prison for five to 10 years. You can go underground in Cape Town. We discussed that: How many safe houses would I need? One was not enough. I had one. And it's a long, drawn out city. If you are caught in Sea Point one night, where do you sleep? Unless you've got a house to go to and people to look after you. Or the other side, or in the middle and so on. Or, you leave the country, you get whatever training you can, political and military things, and you attempt to return as a new persona. Therefore you leave. Which organisation instructs you to leave as a matter of debate -- eventually it was MK. But you pass through Johannesburg to get the permission of the High Command. And the High Command asked me to stay, to investigate the logistical aspect of arms production. And I said, But of course. Again, Denis consider it. And I said, Well I only left Cape Town because there was no possibility of remaining above-ground. If I'm needed to stay I'll stay. I mean it was a cold-blooded as that. But we knew that people would break under torture. We did know. We didn't know to what extent.
Could you have foreseen that?
Yes, yes, because we knew that, in the French Resistance, the attitude was, Hold out for 24 hours if you can, in which time your cell must disappear and disperse. Because people can be broken under torture. They might not. But you must assume they will. So therefore disappear. The problem for us was that we were in a transition from full-time activists, who were working legally, working illegally , working underground, working deep underground. They were the same personnel. Catch them in one area and you wipe out all the structures. And we hadn't yet fully learned all the security techniques. We were in a hurry. Everything had to be kept alive at once. Therefore, all sorts of people came to the Rivonia farm. Which is why we moved out.
You lived out at Trevallyn or something?
Yes, in Krugersdorp. All of us moved out. And there was a decision: No further meetings at Lieliesleaf.
So how did they catch you on the day?
Well, an untold part of the story -- you can get it from Rusty Bernstein -- is that Rusty Bernstein was under house arrest. Which meant he had to report to the police and be home by 1pm Saturday afternoon. Saturday morning meeting, the very last one, at which the decision was taken never to meet at Rivonia again, but they didn't fix a venue. They couldn't come to the new farm because you mustn't make the same mistake again of bringing people to where people live underground. It's fatal. We knew that. They didn't fix the venue. You can't disperse without a venue because, to trace people again and get them together is very difficult and risky. Finally, Rusty has to go -- I'm not blaming Rusty here, what I'm saying is the pressure of house arrest orders and restriction orders -- Rusty has to go. In desperation, We will meet here again on Thursday 11th July 1963 for the very last time. And by then the police -- by whatever method, whether 90 day arrests, or torture, or investigative prowess -- had found the place. I say, I give these alternatives because there is dispute over dates and times of people breaking down, you see. But the too-ing and fro-ing to there was so great that we knew it was dangerous, and we were the last straw that broke the camel's back. So the pressure of house arrest, of restriction orders, created a security flaw which meant that the MK High Command and other structures were wiped out.
Had the Sisulu broadcast been broadcast from Rivonia?
The actual transmitter had been located somewhere else?
Yes. It was in Parktown North. And, just by the way, they said they wanted a 30 mi9nute broadcast, and I was going to do the broadcast, the actual operation, the technical putting it out, and I said, No, comrades you can't. It is said that they need 10 to 20 minutes, maybe 15 minutes, to track you down with direction finding equipment. It needs to be in just one van. they can circle and find you. And, therefore, you can't do that. Please cut it to 15 minutes. They said 20. I said, OK. They said Walter will sit at the transmitter and broadcast. I said, No, comrades, Walter is too important. Walter makes a tape recording. We plug in the tape-recorder, and I will operate that. And we put out guards. We had walkie-talkies and torches so we could signal. And we had a radio antenna so that, the moment the broadcast was over, I simply dropped them flat -- they could never be seen. They were aluminium, and I had spray-painted them black. So they couldn't be seen reflecting in a police beam and so on. Hell, it was exciting. It was not done from Rivonia -- for that reason. We weren't idiots. (laughter)
[end of interview].