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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.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,
Johannesburg, November 20 1990.
Dikobe, if we can start off briefly with the description of when you were picked up, when you were put on trial. Let's get that on record.
Well, I was arrested on the 22nd of November 1983 and then I was kept in solitary confinement until we went on trial. This was the 4th of May 1984. And then other people, the co-accused were Stabiso Maphlobe and Duma Gubule. But there were a number of other people who were picked up with whom we had worked at the level of D C O Matebane Youth League, as well as the African National Congress [ANC]. So people were also detained within the country with regard to this case.
So there were three people who went on trial. And who is the first accused?
Just spell Maphlobe for me.
And so you go on trial in May 1984. And how long does it go on for, the trial?
Our trial lasted until barely under a month. I think we were sentenced by the 22nd of May.
And was this in a magistrate's court or the Supreme Court?
No Supreme Court.
And the charges, the character of the charges?
We had terrorism - I was also charged under treason. So my main charges were terrorism and treason. Stabiso had terrorism. Duma also terrorism. But Duma was subsequently released and given a five-year suspended sentence.
And you got seven years?
No, I was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, and Stabiso to 20 years.
The character of the actual charges against you - do they relate to political work, military work - what were they?
They related to both, you see. Because Stabiso, it was known that he had been trained outside the country - he had left the country for a few years. But what the state was not able to establish in my case and in that of Duma was the extent of our political and military training. So that did not arise in court.
Can we go back to your first political involvement. Can you just very briefly, in outline, sketch for me where your political involvement starts and at what point you link up with the ANC?
Well, my political involvement or awareness goes back to the early 1970s - 1970 whilst I was at high school. And then from there, after high school, I went to a teacher's training college, which was the Rand College of Education.
Oh, on the Witwatersrand?
Where abouts was it?
Next to Crown Mines. And whilst a student there, we went on strike because the Rector we had - a certain Professor [???spelling] Dinger - he made a racist remark about Coloureds being lazy by nature. And then we took up this issue and, as a result of this, a number of us were excluded from college the following year. So, after that I did not go back to teaching.
So, then at this stage were you the member of any organisation?
No, I was not a member of the ANC. I had just been involved in youth activities at school.
Were you a member of Saso or Sasm, or anything like that?
No, not at that stage. I was just - we had a reading circle at school, so we read books that served as the impetus for black consciousness. But even then, I for one, felt that there was one dimension lacking; it was good to affirm the self, but I wanted to know what beyond this can one do in order to change South Africa. There was no military component. One had read about the Cuban revolution, so I was interested, and one knew then, very vaguely, about the ANC and PAC, and it was also during that period that certain students were circulating Marxist literature. But then it was conceptually too advanced for one. I couldn't follow it very well. Then, after that, came 1976.
Where were you when the 1976 uprising occurred?
Alexandra township. I was at home.
So your home was in Alex?
Yes, Alexandra. We participated in the uprising as such. And, as a result, from the uprisings in Alexandra, police were looking for a number of us, and one had to flee Alexandra. So I went to Natal for the next year. And, when I came back to Alexandra at the end of 1977, I was detained because the local police, the Johannesburg police, thought that I had gone out for military training. And then that was not the case, then. Then, after this, by 1978, one was in touch with a number of ANC comrades. By 1978, one was a member of the Black People's Convention [BPC] in Pietermaritzburg. And then, within BPC, as with Saso, there were basically already then two trends of thought. Some people had a bias towards the ANC and others had a bias towards the PAC. And then from this context, one was able to get in touch with members of the ANC.
In the early 1970s, before the uprisings or at the time of the uprisings, did you know people like Martin Ramokgadi from Alexandra?
So you say in about 1978, you start meeting up with ANC people?
ANC people, yes.
And these are formal ANC people?
Now, at what point do you get formally drawn into the ANC?
By early 1979.
And at that point what are you doing? Where are you living and what are you doing?
At that point I was working for the community care centre in Pietermaritzburg. This is a church-funded organisation that does community work. It was set up in order to help people help themselves through, or by way of community projects - carpentry, agriculture and shoemaking and sowing skills for women. So what we were involved in was the actual obtaining of materials and then providing people who could teach these people - providing them with the necessary skills. So that was one's involvement then, during this period.
And what form does this meeting with the ANC take, this contact with the ANC in the early stages?
Well I went, I met comrades inside the country, and then later went out to Botswana.
And these comrades inside the country, did they approach you? How did they approach you?
Obviously we discussed matters politically, and then later one got to know they are members of the ANC and then it was a question of formalising the whole process.
So, when do you go to Botswana?
Which part of 1979 - beginning, middle, late?
I am sure it was early 1979, by May, round about June.
And what happens in Botswana?
Well, I met ANC comrades who were able to tell me more about the ANC's history and then why it had to resort the use of revolutionary violence.
And are these comrades political or military?
Well, at that stage these were political, they were involved in the political machinery. And then others obviously were from the military machinery?
And you met some of them as well?
No, not in the first few sessions. It's only later on that I realised that some of the same people who were having political discussions were also involved in the military.
So this is early 1979. How long do you stay there? Do you receive any form of training while you are there?
Well, one was going in and out. So, during this process, there was political training, as it were: clarification on mobilisation, strategies and tactics. And then, later, there was the other aspects, when one got in touch with MK.
Now if we can stay with the first visit in 1979 - up to the end of 1979, how many trips do you make to Botswana or outside of the country to meet the ANC?
I may have made more than three, but not less than three.
This is in the course of 1979? So the first visit is really a political clarification, etc?
Then there is a second and third visit. What happens in the second and third visits? Are they much the same or are there new departures?
Well, they are much the same: report backs as to what is happening in the region.
The region being Pietermaritzburg?
Yes, Pietermaritzburg and environs, what is happening there politically, what is the thinking of people, what political organisations are there, community organisations.
And can you tell me some of the people you were talking to in Botswana?
No, I cannot give you that right now without talking to them.
OK, well I have a pretty good idea who they were.
OK. Do you receive any kind of training at this stage, in 1979, in secret communications, counter-surveillance?
You do, at this early stage?
Well not after the first meeting, but second, third, more.
Tell me about the form of training you received?
Well it was methods of communication, writing, invisible writing, DLBs, that type of thing.
And did you use them at all?
When, in 1979, or subsequently?
And did they work?
Yes, they worked very effectively.
If we go into 1980, you continue, your line of communication continues to be through Botswana? It doesn't become Lesotho or Swaziland, it continues through Botswana?
Well, it continues to be Botswana but 1981 I had communication with Lesotho.
Why did you change at that point?
Lesotho was closer to Pietermaritzburg than Botswana.
You had not, though, been formally transferred from control through Botswana to control through Lesotho?
No, that happened in that the comrades one was working with, one still continued working with them at different levels. But then one went to work more with comrades who were based in Lesotho.
But had Botswana been in touch with Lesotho about your case, in other words what you were up to?
I would think so.
But you don't know?
OK, I'll tell you why: I find it quite strange that Botswana should be dealing with Pietermaritzburg, because Swaziland would have been the most suitable and, to some extent, Lesotho. But Botswana dealing with Natal - that I have never heard before.
The people I started working from - some of them were people who come from the same area in Alexandra.
I see - its the Transvaal link.
You work with people you first meet before you can [transfer].
Right, now, when do you first encounter some form of military training, or some military connection?
It must have been around 1980 or 1981.
What form does it take? How does it happen?
Well, we went to Botswana with this specific purpose in mind.
What was the specific purpose?
To obtain knowledge in methods of guerilla warfare.
And do you get them?
Can you be more specific on the date? You say 1980 or 1981 - is it 1980 or 1981. It's actually quite important.
I think it was in 1981. But I may be wrong. It's more likely to be.
OK, what form does it take? How long are you there for?
Well, we were there for several weeks. At this stage I cannot elaborate on the kind of training.
But, if I described it in the following terms, would you agree with me that it amounted to a short crash course in the use of firearms and explosives?
Well, that was an aspect of it.
That was an aspect of it. And so other training would have been in strategic and tactical perspectives? Is that what you are saying?
Well, even that would be aspects of this. But, yes, there was more to it than that.
Now, did you leave Botswana during the course of this training period? Or did this training take place within Botswana itself?
No, in Botswana itself.
Did the training take place in one of the urban areas, or did you go out to one of the rural areas?
There were different aspects to this: townships areas, rural areas.
And just remind me: it lasted - how long did it last?
In excess of a month.
Now, when you went out to receive this training, how many people received it with you?
Well, I only knew about my own unit.
In the specific period that you did it - four or five weeks or whatever it was - how many people were in your training group?
In my unit, only the people we had left with.
And how many is that?
We were three.
And presumably this - had the arrangements for this been made over some time?
Now, an important question for me is this: there was a military side to the training; there was presumably also some political component. What I need to know is this: was the training purely done by military people, or were there people that you know were actually from political structures?
No, I would say the two are correlated, you see.
Yes, we would all think they were correlated, but-.
I would say logically we first met people who are directly or-.
But I am not asking a question of logic, I am asking a question of fact, and it's very important-.
Yes, logic also pertains to facts, by the way. What I am saying is that the people we first got in contact with - we didn't go there and say that we are looking for the MK commissar for guerilla warfare; we got in touch with the political machinery in the wide sense of this word, because earlier it would be better. Some of the same people who were involved in the broadly political work teaching what the ANC was about, what the Party [SACP] is about, it does not mean that this is their sole area of operation. Some of these people are also trained and they can also train other people.
Sure. We are not in disagreement here, but that this time-.
So, later on, when we were going to get military training, some of the political people we had met, they set up this and introduced us to people who were going to give us training in whatever we were trained in.
So what you are saying then, in essence, is that at this time you are confident you were in contact with both political and military machineries?
Yes, I don't think you can divorce the two like oil and water.
Well, you see, I don't think one can, logically, but as a matter of fact, they were at various times in the ANC's history. And this is why my question is so important. I agree it is sensible. But at times they were, and this is a key problem I am trying to deal with in my thesis.
Well, I have not yet read you book [MK: The ANC's Armed Struggle], so I don't know what you are referring to.
So, you come back after this four or five weeks. What tasks are you given? What is the kind of strategic perspective or the tactical tasks you are given when you return? There are three of you returning with this training? What are your tasks?
Well, I had to go back to my area, and I continued with - shall we say for want of a better term - more specifically political work. And then - we are speaking about 1980, 1981, 1982 - that's the time we are going to form the D C O Matiwane Youth League.
D C O Matiwane - what is it derived from?
He was a member of the ANC who was based in Pietermaritzburg, so, when we formed this organisation, we called it after him.
So this Youth League has not been formed before you go back in late 1980 or early 1981 and form it?
By mid-1980, one was working on this. From 1977 up to 1980, as I said earlier, I was working for the community care centre. Then, from early 1980, I am going to leave the community care centre and work for the lay ecumenical centre. And then, as director of the youth department, but also involved with community projects because of the earlier experience. And, then, as a result of this, one is going to organise the ANC youth programme. And then, as a part of the organisation of this youth programme, we are going to form this here youth league.
Now, were any directives given to you in 1979, 1980 to involve yourself specifically in this kind of work?
So, no directive came from these comrades that you were in touch with in Botswana saying, Dikobe, listen, this is the thing? What you are saying to me is that you got no directive from them?
So this is your own initiative together with your comrades in place?
The question is: Did the comrades outside approve of this kind of involvement that you guys were now involving yourselves in youth organisation?
Yes, I mean we were involved in community - in the narrow sense, perhaps, thinking of adults - but youth, they formed part of this community, and students.
But there was no specific directive or instruction, saying: Comrades this is what we are now going to do?
No, not in my experience. I had to use my own initiative and say: Comrades we are busy with this; we are busy with this; can you advise on this?
What was their advice? Can you remember any aspects of advice which they gave on organisation of the youth, this involvement that you had?
Well, it is difficult to remember off-hand. But I had youth experience, having been involved in student politics myself at school. And then, with 1976 - so organising the youth was not that problematic to me. So I was able to know what to initiate, recreational programmes and then education - organising teachers to help with different subjects, and also setting up a library. But what comrades were able to help with was books and other material that obviously circulated there. And then, as a result of this youth programme - where you have people coming there for perhaps different interests at the beginning, others to get tuition, others just to be part of the recreation programme. But later on, we had regular discussions, about four days a week, where the local situation was discussed and also the political situation. And then as a result of this, you find that more people become more and more politically conscious. And then, as a result of this activity, it became possible to recruit quite a number of these youth members to the ANC. This is the aspect which came out in my case, where Justice Kannemeyer says that I abused my position of trust as a youth organiser by recruiting for the ANC from the ranks of the youth.
Now can we go back a little bit? You mention that three of you go to Botswana for this training. Before you go to Botswana to receive this military training, how big is your ANC circle in Pietermaritzburg? How many people are you in touch with as ANC?
There were very few that I knew, that I knew definitely were ANC members - three or four. But others, I could have my suspicions, but you could not confirm.
But your unit - can we talk of your being involved in a unit of the ANC at that time.
Yes. It was basically restricted to about three or four people.
And these would be the same three that - the other two that you went to Botswana for training with?
Those were different people?
Yes. One was I had know him from an earlier period, but he was not working in Pietermaritzburg.
So, you have a unit then, of three or four that you are in touch with in Pietermaritzburg. You have suspicions about other people, but it is really three that you are working with as a unit. Is there a leadership in the unit? Do you have a hierarchy at all, or is it cooperative?
Well, I would say there is a hierarchy in the sense that when this unit is going to be formed, there would be one person who is given the responsibility who is in direct communication with outside. And then there is one person who like guided us from inside the country out to the ANC. So really, that places him in that position of leadership for want of a better word. So, even when we get back, basically he has had more exposure to the ANC and then, later on, we will split from this original unit, where each and every one, they will get different tasks, perhaps in regard to at a certain level of this original unit, somebody will be responsible for communication with the ANC outside the country, getting things, getting material; someone else would have a different task. So tasks are broken up and, at a much later stage, this unit disappears and forms other units.
When does that happen? Does it happen?
Yes, it does, at least in my experience.
When does that happen?
It happens where comrades will say: No time has reached-.
But does it happen in the case of your unit?
At what point does it happen?
[End of Side A]
Yes, 1982, where comrades are given other tasks and they work with other people whom I do not know, nor do they know with whom I am working. But basically we know - the three of us, we have worked together you see. So, for security reasons.
OK, now you start organising the D C O Matiwane Youth League, and this starts in, what, late 1980, early 1981?
Now, can you just explain to me how you take forward the ANC's objectives in the course of this work? You mentioned recruitment. OK, you are involved with helping these people with education, providing recreation possibilities, a reading circle - how do you recruit and what are your objectives in recruitment?
Well, obviously one works with this group of people from a day-to-day basis.
How many people were you working with?
Well we had a rather big group, so membership fluctuated from between 60, 50, 45 - but we also had that component. Unless there was what we termed a coffee bar, recreation, when people come together for a dance, music, whatever, then the membership rocketed, several hundreds. But that was passive membership. But the regulars, from this process of discussion, you are able to see who are the people with political interest, who are the people who are slightly more mature than others, and then, from this, you are able to isolate certain characters - that this kind of person will be OK for political work; some other kind of person-.
[Brief break in tape for arrival of visitor]
OK, so you identify the mature individuals?
Then you are going to be able to say, this one, perhaps he's got talking skills, perhaps he's got organisational skills, he's able to communicate much better with people; then you are going to organise this kind of individual and say that, no, this person will benefit from lots more theoretical, political exposure, and then one is going to organise for this kind of individual to go out to get more in-depth political clarification and training. Then other comrades with second or third opinions, they will see exactly where best this person can be located. And then, in my experience, because of the openness and the level of political awareness that was achieved within the context of D C O Matiwane Youth League, you would find that one makes a mistake, a mistake in the sense that there are comrades there, they are politically mature and whatever, and then one is going to approach a comrade who I think then will do well in the military structure. But I also have the experience of a man saying: No, I personally do not think that I will be able to function in the military structures because of the reason basically that I am a pacifist, or he foresees the position where he would not be able to engage in fighting where he may be killed or where he may kill somebody. Then the person would say that, no, I will feel OK in a political structure. So, in this context, you are able to assess this type of thing.
So you are picked up in-.
Between the beginning of D C O Matiwane Youth League and when you are picked up, how many people do you recruit for the ANC?
Well, there were quite a number.
Can you give me a realistic estimate?
At least, I am sure of at least 20-somewhat.
OK, now, of those 20-odd, by the time you have recruited them, do you have a fair idea of where the best place is for them to go?
Yes, this is what I said I have to do this assessment: I think this one will be good for a political structure; others for military structure.
OK, now, if you decide somebody is going to be good for a military structure, what did you then do?
I would refer him to some other comrades.
No, outside, and say is it possible to facilitate a meeting with this type of character and then bring them and then discuss political matters, whatever, identifying to the comrades, and then, in their talking with this person, they would be able to add their own observations. I would not necessarily at that stage, when I go with this comrade, tell him that he's going there for possible military, to be recruited in the military structures.
OK, so at this point when you take him out, the comrade who might be suitable for military tasks - are you dealing then with Lesotho, or are you still dealing with Botswana, or are you dealing with both?
No, by that time, I was mainly dealing with Lesotho.
So, of this 20-odd that you identify and recruited, how many would have taken the military path and how many the political path?
Well, I would say that at least, from the 20, at least six military.
And the rest?
And the rest political.
Now those six, how many of them received short-term military training outside and how many received long-term military training outside?
I wouldn't be able to answer that. I can only surmise. I'll say why I can only surmise. Because whilst I introduced them to other comrades, it's out of my hands.
So what would your surmise be - that they went off for long-term training?
Yes. By the early 1980s - let us be clear what we mean by long-term training - by the early 1980s, by 1982, 1983, it was already clear that, if you dislocate a comrade for three years, wherever you dislocate him from, it is known to the government that this man has been out of the situation. So that most of the people that I was in touch with were people who could get training, be it in instalments of a month or two over a period of three years, but in sum, the training would be the same as this two-year period. And then the kind of person we were also getting was people who were employed - like there were certain comrades who were having very good jobs, where their companies wanted to send them for further training to university and so on. So that they were well-established job-wise, and then these other activities we were involved in fits into this. So they had a perfect legend, as it were.
So, what you are saying then is that you are surmising that the six odd people that you identified as suitable for military tasks, over a long period of time got periods of training?
Yes, and then of the six, some went out of the country completely for several years and, well, one died in a skirmish-.
What, in Angola?
No, no, in Natal.
Can you name the chap who died in the skirmish?
Which skirmish was that, do you remember?
No, I don't recall the date, but I recall it was whilst I was in prison last year.
It happened as recently as last year?
Yes. One of the recent issues of Umsebenzi carried a profile of him. He was known as 'Son of Man'. And then from Natal.
Do you remember when he was recruited?
About 1982, early 1982.
So, I just want to be clear. You are saying that of these six people, some clearly went for what I am terming long-term training. Some, however, received bursts of training over a protracted period. Now, are you aware, at this time that you were involved, up until the time you are picked up, about military training being done inside the country in your area, Pietermaritzburg?
Yes. In fact we had reached the stage where comrades outside had planned that because people were able to keep down employment, gainful employment, look after themselves during the day, etc, it was possible to set them up in the Pietermaritzburg - as you know it is semi-rural where the townships are - where you would find that we were thinking of having units of six to seven MK cadres out in the rural areas where they would know how to link up together.
Had this stage been reached by the time you were taken in?
By the time I was arrested, some of the people who sold out on us like David Chiba-.
How do I spell that?
I am not certain, but David Chiba and there was a - there was another ex-comrade Ngwenya, I am trying to think of his first name, but also from Pietermaritzburg. And then what was arranged was that the comrade I had worked with - his concern was purely military. This is our first accused. Then part of the plan was he would go out and then they would identify suitable comrades who could make up these unit, established in the rural area. And then one - as a person I have tried to show you that, during my involvement, I have worked with military structures and political structures, which has not been the norm - only in exceptional cases - they tried to have comrades doing military work only doing military work, but then only link up at the level where you have got a political and a military commissar - so even in Pietermaritzburg, it was planned that there would some comrade responsible for the military units and then there would be another also responsible for political commissar, and military commissar.
Now, where were they going to meet?
Up somewhere, not at this level where the majority of the comrades are. Like, even if there are six military comrades there, and then six who are involved in the political structure, it does not necessarily mean that these people will know each other. But, at a higher level, there may be a military commissar who will know the military guys, and there will be a political commissar who will know the people involved directly in politics. So, at this level, at this high level, information will have to be shared: what is happening politically.
Now, it is very important for me to know: when was this perspective put to you and where did it come from?
I am sure 1982 or 1983 - we were already working at this level. It came from comrades in Lesotho.
Were you dealing with Chris Hani at all in Lesotho?
But surely your structures, when you were working with Lesotho, would have fallen under Chris?
But the person we were working with, when Comrade Hani was forced to withdraw from Lesotho, was Comrade 'A'.
Yes. And others.
I think it's Lihlonolo, head of operations. I think it is him. That's very interesting.
So at the time that we were arrested, it was just when we were implementing these things.
[Conversation about how much longer interview can continue]
OK, there are about six of your recruits who are designated for military tasks, the other 14 are designated for political tasks. Now, the training of those political comrades - was there any training of them, or were they recruited into local political structures for-?
Well, I would say there must have been political training for them in the sense that I have worked at this youth and community level where I identify certain comrades, and then we have got regular discussions. Then one's function in these group discussions, as members of D C O [Matiwane] and also as members of the ANC - in D C O Matiwane Youth League, the discussions, everything there, political sympathies obviously lie with the Congress Movement and Communist Party [SACP] - you would find that in that context there would be several ANC members contributing and what have you. But the general, broad membership of D C O Matiwane Youth League, they are not ANC members, so we cannot discuss ANC things as openly there. But informally, it was possible to make an input without actually saying this comes from the ANC or what have you. And, at a slightly higher level, there would be meetings where we would meet as members of the ANC and say what needs to be done - ANC, in regard to youth organisations, in regard to community organisations, in regard to the trade union movement.
Now, were any of those political people sent outside for training?
Yes. This is, as I said earlier, where Justice Kannemeyer said I abused my position of trust because they got to know that many people were sent to Lesotho for political training.
How long did they normally stay there for political training?
Well, very short. Weekend, a week or so, depending on holidays.
But none of them went off for years, that you are aware of?
Later, some. But already after I was arrested. But even then, after I had introduced them to other comrades in Lesotho, places like Lesotho, and I briefed those comrades as exactly the type of person, and then once they have met, we will have our discussions about what the possibilities are. But then, once they are allocated to people to give them whatever intensive political training in whatever aspect they may deem necessary - be it trade unions, be it youth or be it in community organisations - I would not be party to that because it would be out of my minds, and also in regard to security.
OK, my final question then: Accused Number 1 in your case was a fully trained guerilla?
Did you receive him in the country?
So, in other words, when he came in, you were the guy that was going to receive him and help him set himself up?
Not that. But this is actually what happened. He came in from Lesotho, and then he encountered serious problems because there was no proper preparations, if preparations were made for him. And then when he came there, he was virtually stranded. And then we got him - he got in touch with me because he suspected I was a fellow ANC member and then I had also known him earlier from the youth.
So there was a basis for personal trust?
Yes. So I had to find about him, and find out that, no, he's actually from Lesotho. Then we worked together. But he had to sort out the [???] from not Lesotho, Swaziland.
He was from Swaziland?
He was from Swaziland. And then I was working, as I said earlier, with the Lesotho machinery. Then, as a result of this, we had to change.
So he was from Swaziland?
And when did he come in?
That was 1982, early 1982.
And he survived until late 1983?
That's pretty good in terms of average. Is there anything which at this stage you want to add, or where you think I may have the wrong impression of what you have said.
[End of interview]