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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Momoniat, Ismail

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Conducted by Howard Barrell,

Johannesburg, December 3 1990

OK, Momo, I'd like to start right at the beginning which, in terms of my interest, is when you - or do you formally enter into a relationship with the ANC and SACP?

Yes, I did.

Can you tell me the basic details?

[Conversation about smoking]

Look, in terms of a formal relationship it came quite late, in the late 1980s. But I think that, like, certainly for myself and for the kinds of people I was involved with - I mean that I would say that I have been fairly involved in ANC-type politics from, say, about 1979. And, from that period up to the early 1980s, I think we had our links with the movement. It wasn't a direct link in the sense that it wasn't something that I was involved with directly. It's also because I think the movement was very weak organisationally in the late 1970s and early 1980s. And, when I say "we", I would say some of us involved in the Anti-SAIC campaign, or the TIC, or the UDF would see our task as that of popularising the ANC. And we would obviously have contact with people - and I think this is the point which you emphasised earlier - a lot of these activities evolved through our own active involvement; it wasn't on instructions from the movement. I don't think the movement was even in a strong [enough] position to give that advice. I've come from the BC sort of background. And so I think once we had our struggles - a lot of our struggles in the initial period were against black consciousness people. Anyway, just to answer your question: There wasn't any straight contact. But there was indirect contact - more in the form of reports, some form of guidance. But I think, by and large, we would sit and strategise ourselves. Until, of course, I think very much later when the movement had taken off and, during the State of Emergency, when one saw the need to be recruited directly into the ANC or the [SA communist] party, and to operate in that way.

Can we talk about the indirect character of this link? Can you explain this a bit more to me? What was its character?

Well, you know, I - let me give you a concrete example. If you take for example, before the Anti-SAIC campaign - I think it was in 1979, 1980, there was a debate on participation in the South African Indian Council. Now, whilst I think we held a very definite view, because we felt the movement was weak, that ultimately we needed, or it was important for us to have a mass approach and carry, for example, the Indian community. So, when it came to the issue of the Indian Council, we began to question the approach of just blindly rejecting participation. And, in that debate, for example, there were various individuals who would link up with the movement, firstly to see if they had a problem with just the fact that the debate was being raised. Because people felt very strongly about this.

Is this the rejectionist participation line - which is go in, take it over, that sort of debate?

Ja, Ja. Well, what was basically being said was that there was no Congress presence in the country, real Congress presence, and that, in the Indian community particularly, the collaborators had taken hold of the leadership within the community. And some of us felt that, through the campaign around the SAIC, one possibility would be that, given the repression and so on, that we go in, participate, say, as the Indian Congresses, and then just obstruct the whole thing. Now, when I say that, I just want to say that we certainly did arrive [not???] at that position at any stage; that was one side of the argument. We were also committed to boycotting that institution. But we were prepared to look at all the options, unlike before, say, with the kind of background I would come with - from, say, the black consciousness background, there wouldn't even be any discussion. So, during the course of the debate, I mean, individuals would have been sent out, I suppose either to London or to the neighbouring countries...

Swaziland.

Ja, and to meet with various individuals. I must say that, at that time, we didn't question to much. I mean, when things were done, you didn't find out who they meet, how things were done. One would just maybe get a basic response about what the movement felt. And, for example in that debate, the movement very much - or the kind of signals we were getting was that we here in the country had to take that decision. People brought up various views. So that kind of contact was going on all the time. Another example would be: take the launch of the UDF. I don't think that idea came from the outside. In fact that idea evolved from within the country. I would actually credit some of the NIC comrades with that view. Well, of course, one could always ask whether they had contacts with the outside. But again I don't think it was a view coming from the outside. After the Anti-SAIC campaign, and with the tricameral parliament coming in, we wanted to consolidate our, the gains we had made and sort of we had decided to revive the Transvaal Indian Congress. In discussing that, we decided to have a conference - I think it was January 1983...

It was.

If I remember the dates, it was the 20th, 21st, something like that. Now, in the sort of weeks before that campaign, I think Boesak at some point - it would have been around the first or second week in January, had called for a united front. But, again, his call was in isolation. I mean the mass democratic movement - well, as a Congress movement, we were still weak in the Western Cape. In fact, Boesak wasn't really accepted within the progressive fold. Because, I remember, in getting him to the Anti-SAIC conference, we had to really push some of the Cape comrades that someone like him was prepared to support us. And the Anti-SAIC conference wasn't - I mean at that point we didn't have national conferences - so you know maybe some areas weren't consulted fully as well. But what happened was that, in planning for it - there was a lot of planning between the Anti-SAIC committee and the NIC, we used to meet regularly. Some of the NIC comrades felt that Boesak's call opened up the possibility of launching some kind of national front to fight the tricameral parliament. Because obviously the tricameral thing didn't just affect Indians. I mean the coloured community was involved, and people were looking at black local authorities. And I mean this was literally in that last week. I think the Sunday before the conference. And then the Natal comrades came to Johannesburg. And between the Anti-SAIC committee and the NIC, we decided we should go for this call. There was no time for national consultation. There wasn't even much time, I think, for consultation with the movement. And, because with us, we saw the Anti-SAIC conference as just looking at the issue of the TIC, not broader than that. So, at the last moment - anyway, we had invited people all over and at that Boesak was asked to repeat the call that he made, and at that conference there was a decision to form the united - I think at that time we called it a national democratic front...

In the commission report, it says united democratic front...

OK, but I know they were playing with the two names, and problem emerged with the one.

Can I just check something. When you say that Boesak - you asked him to repeat the call...

Yes.

Where had he first made it?

I know, you are taking my mind back. Let me just say, I think in that period, the Eshowe conference of the Labour Party had taken place. Was it that December 1982?

The conference decision, I think, had been taken on January 4, something like that.

OK. And Boesak had just become president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. And I mean it would have been in that week. If you look at newspaper reports. But it was, I think, in the first week of January. It may even have been a response to the Labour Party's decision.

Can I make a suggestion to you - that it was actually in a newspaper article that he made the call; he had been phoned by a journalist and he had said...

It's possible. Well, I think that's how we would have seen it - in a newspaper article. So it wasn't as if somebody went to any such conference. You don't happen to be the journalist by any chance?

No, no. It's a journalist in Cape Town.

But anyway, I was just bringing up this point just to show that there was a - I mean it certainly wasn't a - or we certainly weren't operating in a situation where we were taking direct instructions from the movement. I think the idea of the UDF evolved very genuinely, I think, from the NIC and the Anti-SAIC committee in the first place and then, through discussion at that conference, and thereafter it was raised with the movement. And I think they were quite excited about the idea, and incorporated it into their own strategy.

I want to go back. I'm going to come up and tease out some of these points.

OK.

I want to go back to when you shift from BC towards a Congress type of position. Are there discussions? Do you come into contact with people? What shifts you?

Look, I think that - I mean again at that time I don't think black consciousness was a very cohesive group as such. I think some of us were, had contacts with BC people. I don't think I was influenced by particular individuals. But I think just through involvement in campus politics on the one hand around the time that Biko died, one just began to feel that we weren't getting anywhere, particularly after 1976, when people were being slaughtered and BC didn't seem to have any effective response to take on the regime. So that kind of thing certainly - I think we began to question the rhetoric of black consciousness and its being restricted to essentially being a student-based movement. I mean people who I was close to, people like [Mohamed] Valli - and people like Valli also went to Durban; I think he was actively involved with the Saso branch...

Is this Durban-Westville?

Ja.

You were there also?

No, I was at Wits. I mean I wasn't all that influenced by particular individuals here. But I think Valli also got involved with community work, with people like Pravin Gordhan and Yunus Mohamed and those kinds of people. So it was a question of, I think, us questioning the relevance of black consciousness or its ability to really take on the regime; an understanding also of the need for a mass approach. So, our break with BC wasn't initially a hostile ideological break; it was a break through I think - we began to emphasise mass work in the Transvaal. So, for example we got involved in Pulse Film Society in Lenasia - not that that's a mass activity, but it allowed it allowed us to reach broadly to other individuals. I mean, like, black consciousness people didn't have any projects; it was just a small club. People would get together, maybe drink together, maybe socialise together, maybe have their plays - but not really carry the community, and every body was reactionary and so on. And then, in our - we attempted to change the Black Students Society, which had a black consciousness bent...

Is that here at Wits?

Ja. To get it to get involved in community campaigns.

Who is "we" now?

Well, it would have been people like Firoz Cachalia and myself, on campus mainly. Azar Cachalia as well. You see a lot of us began to - around the same time there was a whole debate, well just before the Black Students Society challenge, I mean we all came together around the Anti-SAIC debate, we were all from different groups, or we weren't really linked in any way. But through that debate we began to understand the need for mass approach. In fact, there was an Anti-Constitutional Guidelines Campaign Committee - I forget the name...

Now, what period are we talking about here?

This would be around 1979, or 1978, 1979. I think 1979. Or it was Anti-Constitutional Proposals Committee. I mean just to give you an idea of our working relationship with the black consciousness people. It was launched by a host of people. Oh, before that there was an action committee. You see, the government was talking for a long period about having elections for the South African Indian Council; it kept on postponing them. So initially there was an action committee, where you had people like Joe Variava and Prema Naidoo and Priscilla Jana and a whole host of people involved. I attended one or two meetings. Thereafter, this committee was formed - Anti-Constitutional Proposals Committee - I remember the name, it was Anti-CP. And, I mean there, too, we still had Joe Variava and Priscilla Jana on the one hand, you had Prema Naidoo and Mohamed Bam - I came as a student; I got elected. And it was actually in that committee that an explosion took place. Now, the whole ideological battle, I think, with black consciousness took off in a big way I think in fact through the Anti-SAIC campaign. Although you had the Anti-Republic campaign going on at about that time, but it wasn't really a massive campaign on the scale of the Anti-SAIC campaign. Anyway, what happened was that the committee basically split up into two over the issue of participation.

Who went which way?

Well, you had people like Joe Variava and Priscilla Jana, who went one way, and then there were other individuals like, say, Dr Ram Salojee was around - I think, not in a big way, but sort of sided with that group, although he wasn't black consciousness; he comes from very different root of participation in management committees. And then you had people like Prema Naidoo, myself [Momoniat], Mohamed Bam, sort of on the other side. I mean at that point, for example, - and Firoz, sorry Cachalia - there was no real link between myself and Prema, for example. I just got to know him. They thought, for example, that I was part of the black consciousness movement.

What was the issue then?

Well, over the participation issue. And that committee just broke up. What happened thereafter was that that difference reflected itself on campus as well, where you had people like Hanif Valli and those guys, Ramesh - I forget his surname - was it chairperson or president of BSS. Which, I mean, you still had a difference, although people like Hanif would say they weren't black consciousness. We felt that people were still rooted in BC practice by still having an elite approach - in a sense only appealing to a student base. And we argued for involvement in community campaigns. So, for example, shortly after that, we got involved in a hospital campaign in Lens [Lenasia] and so on. Just from everything I say, you'll see, you know at that time there weren't many African students - there were hardly an African students. Wits had just begun to get Indian and coloured students. So a lot of the progressive politics was linked to Indian and coloured areas. African areas, with a high level of repression as well. I mean even the Anti-Community Council campaign was a fairly low-profile thing then, although it was higher than previous campaigns. But, anyway, this is just preceding that period. There was a big split on campus. But, anyway, what finally happened was our group still won, and we won over two people from the other side - David Johnson and a guy by the name of James [Saaju???]. In fact, David Johnson became the president of the BSS, although he wasn't, I don't think he was really leading the debates - I think he was also not clear where he was going to stand. But, in the end, he decided to stand with the kind of position we put across. So those were some of the divisions. So, anyway, what I am just trying to outline is that the split was, I suppose, initially an intellectual difference. There wasn't really any hostility. But, as we began to try and adopt a more mass approach - because we began to have a hospital campaign in Lens where we went out with petitions and so on - I mean BC people saw that as just a reformist campaign, and liberalish campaign, and so on. And so we faced a lot of that kind of flak. And the dispute became more bitter. And I think the final straw came for us in Lenasia in - again I am not sure whether it's 1979 or 1980. I think it would have been around November 1970 [???] [1979]. There was a bus issue - the bus service in Lens has always provided a very poor service and I think they had increased their prices - and I think we brought out a, we had a meeting of the community. At that time, there was a - what were the media workers? MWASA called for a boycott of both the Mail and The Star...

Because of the strike?

Ja. And we had invited - and to respect their wishes we hadn't invited the media there, but we invited - I don't know if you remember there was an Afrika journal - there was a comrade from the Island who worked there who died in an accident - Diliza...

Aah, Afrika?

Ja, something like that.

Ja, David Niddrie also worked on it.

Ja, and Jo-Anne [Yawitch] also worked there. Anyway, Jo-Anne and another white female comrade, we asked them to come to that meeting. At that meeting, we had people like Ameen Akhalwaya, who was openly associated with the black consciousness group, I mean they began to heckle the meeting; they began to fight with us in front of - you had the masses there - and they were calling us scabs because we had these two people to report. In actual fact, when we said to them: Look, they don't belong to SAAN or to Argus, and as far as we were concerned we weren't breaking the boycott; they belong to an independent initiative, which is a progressive initiative; and is your objection to the fact that they are whites? or is your objection to their project? Obviously, they didn't want to hear. And it really became a bitter thing. Dr Jassat addressed that meeting. These guys went to the front, sort of took over the mike, accused us of being scabs. I mean whilst we fought back at the meeting, but the community were just mesmerised seeing two groups. And they basically, to put it mildly, you know, fucked up the whole campaign, just by their methods. And the thing spilt over after the meeting: after the meeting, they wanted to beat some of us up. We had people like Monty Narsoo involved with us as well, at that point. What happened thereafter was that, when we went home, like Sadec Variava, who was banned, who was the kind of guru of BC politics in the area, I think came - I don't know if he was supposed to have a panga - we were all sitting at Monty's house. He came looking for me and somebody else. He knocked on the front door. Monty didn't have his front door keys, so we said to him: Come to the back. That really, sort of, fucked out some of the attack. Then he comes in and he just says: You, you, you come outside. And obviously he wants to beat us up. And then, we were quite mad. And we had about 20, 30 people in the room. And obviously people said: Listen, you deal with us here, all of us. I'm talking about this incident because I think that was the first time where the conflict degenerated to a point of near violence. It didn't actually come to that. But, at that point, I think some of us felt that we had actually reached the point now where these people were holding us back; our attempts to win them over - because we would still go and visit Sadec and talk to him and try and win him over, and a lot of us were personal friends, and it wasn't as if we were hostile to each other. But, anyway, we decided thereafter: no way could we have any truck with them, and we were now going to consciously just marginalise them. And that led, for example, to some of the open conflicts that March - I mean there was Anti-Republic Campaign - there was a meeting...

We're now in 1981?

1981, ja. I think they were both at a meeting at Wits and at a meeting in Lens. They were attacked. I think there was a March 21st meeting as well in Lens.

You mean Congress people launched verbal attacks on them?

Ja. Now, I just want to say that, up to that point, the only Congress political organisations that we had were BSS and, say, Firoz Cachalia and them were involved in Benoni Students' Movement. So they played quite a high profile in terms of Congress politics. There was no other political body that could take up political campaigns. So, now I remember we had a series of about three meetings in very close, in a very short period. I think there was March 21st, there was an Anti-Republic Day campaign meeting, and there was the launch of the Anti-SAIC. These three meetings took place in Lens. Now, some of the conflict took place on campus. But, what happened at these meetings - I think at one of the meetings, Zindzi spoke and called them "ideological bandits", which fuelled the thing. At some point, I think the March 21st meeting, I forget which one - oh, sorry, June 16th was another meeting. One of those meetings was a joint meeting between us and them and, because they were weak, we had outmanoeuvred them and we were, we sort of had their speaker first and our speakers last. And, in fact to test them, we went further: we said we are going to get Sammy Adelman to speak. Sammy Adelman got banned, just a few days before. Then we got hold of I think Norman Manoim came to speak. And what happened was he spoke first and then this BC guy attacked him - he was the vice-president - and then Samson spoke afterwards...

Samson Ndou?

Ja. And called them CIA agents and - I mean the thing just spilt out right into the press and so on. But I think like for us the crowning glory in a sense was the Anti-SAIC campaign. The BC people tried to launch the campaign. When we saw that, we felt that, if you left it to the BC people, they would just mess up this campaign with their approach. And we wanted a mass approach. And we had been having discussions for a period of a year or two beforehand on whether we should launch the TIC or not. And, in those discussions we had, for example - by the way, I wasn't involved with initiating it; the people involved would have been people like Prema Naidoo, Amin Kaji....

This is the TIC?

Ja. I mean, for example, I myself wasn't certain we should have a TIC because I had also qualms about the I in the TIC and, knowing the response of the BC people who had an ideological hold on our politics internally. So anyway there were these discussions taking place, and we were trying to persuade people like Dr Jassat, who had just emerged out of their, finished with their banning orders, Cassim Saloojee, NG Patel, to come and take up a leadership position in the community. And, you know, people - look, there was a lot of fear and people weren't certain; we weren't a cohesive grouping; we were young people, people like Valli, myself, Mohammed Bam; and presumably they would have seen us as pushing. I mean in that same period we began to form residents' associations in places like Lens - that's 1979 again. Anyway, when we got this invitation, it actually forced us to accelerate our pace.

Which particular invitation is this?

The BC people decided to call up an Anti-SAIC committee. I remember the date: June 6 1980. And we said: Well, we'll suspend the issue of the TIC, but we feel that we need a political organisation. And that we are going to go to this meeting and take over this meeting; just democratically, but filling up the meeting with our supporters and throwing them out. And I mean that plan worked like a charm. For the first time we were able to mobilise all our supporters. You know [at] that time 150 people were a lot of people. And I think we had about probably close to 200 people in the hall.

This is in Lens?

In Lens. And then we had people like Elliot Tshabangu, Samson Ndou present as well. The first point of dispute was who should be the chair. They had their own chair. We got someone to get up and say: Comrade chair, you know, we don't work like the South African Indian Council; we believe in democracy; we believe the chair should be elected. And we defeated them on that vote. But we put in someone like RAM Salojee, who was still neutral. There after, we asked for - well, they had a proposed constitution. And Samson got up and said there is no need for a constitution because we've got a Freedom Charter. And the meeting adopted the Freedom Charter [Laughter]. And then it came to elections. And we basically, we worked them.

This is in 1960 [80]?

No, 1980.

1980, sorry, I beg your pardon.

We got - I mean our whole team got elected. Jassat was the president. Firoz Cachalia's father, Dr Cachalia and Ram Salojee as the vice-chairs...

Of what?

Transvaal Anti-SAIC committee. And I was the secretary, Prema Naidoo was on the exec, Kaji - a whole host of Congress stalwarts and some younger people. People like Valli didn't get onto the committee because we also felt for tactical reasons we didn't want to expose our whole sort of leadership. Anyway, that was the kind of committee that we had. Now, I think that I have been tracing it just to show to what extent we had that conflict with black consciousness. It started with an intellectual conflict, then to a conflict around an approach, a mass approach; and then very concretely when it came to campaigns, as things heated up and the difference became, sort of became more hostile, we then decided to push them out, and we took over Black Students Society, we took over the Transvaal Anti-SAIC committee. And that laid the pattern, I think, just to marginalise them out of politics. I think at about the same time Azaso was taken over by Reaval Nkondo and those guys. So, all this came together. I think we were very independent strands.

Now, are you seeing yourself now as Congress?

Ja.

At this time - this period we are discussing - you are seeing yourself already as Congress?

Ja.

And you get old Congress stalwarts in - Essop Jassat. You invite Ndou, Elliot Tshabangu to address the meeting. How is this being networked? How are you identifying who to ask, what...

Look, within the TIC - and by that stage now we have already become very close to people like Prema Naidoo - I don't know if you know Prema...

I know of Prema - I don't know him.

OK, I don't have to tell you. He comes from a very sort of Congress family. And so people like Prema had, I think, extensive contacts. And people like Prema also had contacts with the movement [ANC]. So, you know when I was just saying we had our indirect contacts, it was through such individuals. Well, say, through him, for example, he knew Samson [Ndou]; he knew Tshabangu. I mean we used to actually literally go to the homes of old Congress people in the Indian community, in the African community and sort of try and develop a political relationship. Then we were also linked to people like Barbara Hogan, Auret van Heerden - there was the Fattis and Monis campaign around that time. I mean, obviously it has been shown, Barbara had her links with the movement [ANC] as well. So, in the Transvaal, it was a coming together of all these groups. Also, we were linked to the Natal people like Pravin Gordhan, Yunus Mohamed.

Now, what was your link with Pravin and Yunus? Was it Valli?

Well, I personally, I mean, I met them through Valli, and that through Prema. They had also linked up to Prema. Yunus knew Prema even before he had met Valli. Because Yunus Mohamed is from Johannesburg...

Oh, really, I didn't know that.

No, he's from Johannesburg. It's just when he went to study, he went to Natal. So, you know, there were all these extensive links, you know, all over the place. And we actually - we became a solid core. I mean, to the point where, for Indian areas - not for, I mean, yes, we used to meet as a disciplined groups, where the level of discipline was extremely high. We'd insist, I mean for example, just on the one hand to ensure that the enemy couldn't destroy us, we would for example - I mean we went to the point of ruling out a kind of relationship between one of our guys and a white comrade.

Was that a sexual relationship?

Well, a relationship, ja. Because we felt that that kind of thing would attract attention in that period and, because in a sense we had something to hide, we weren't willing to [have] that. We decided not to visit any neighbouring countries ourselves because any time people would go and visit Botswana or Lesotho or Swaziland, there would be comebacks. So we would be fairly disciplined about those things.

Did the comrade accept the...?

Ja, in that particular case, in the initial period, I am saying. Obviously the rules changed. I was just trying to give you [and idea of] how strict we were on certain things. Obviously, as things evolved we became more flexible on certain issues. But, certainly for that period, we had a tight group - I mean, not, ah, some people would say, a cabal and that...

Well, the cabal thing, no...

That's a lot of nonsense. I mean at that time - and I am looking at the younger people; we were a young group; because we were, I think, much more committed, I think, to reviving the Indian Congress. I mean the older people had been through certain experiences and, you know, they had to be pushed a little bit. They were afraid to take risks; they were afraid to come forward. There was a lot of infighting among old Congressites. There was a lot of suspicion that X was a spy, or blah, blah, blah. But just as a young group we came together, we pushed and I mean I think for us the Anti-SAIC campaign really set us forward. I don't know if you remember, for example, the way we projected the Freedom Charter, in that it was the first campaign that projected the Charter very, very extensively. We used to go to every town; we used to start to send our activists there, get them to do mass work a few days before, a week before, go door-to-door, call them to meetings. I mean, at meetings, we would use Congress symbols. We would - you know, OK, you couldn't talk openly about the ANC, but you would get Albertina Sisulu, unbanned for a few months, she would address our first meeting; we would garland her; talk about the Freedom Charter, talk about Luthuli. So, you know, there was a lot of that. And songs began to emerge. And although in the Indian community, they couldn't really sing a lot of these songs, we would get comrades from the townships who would come and sing and really give this thing that really clear bent.

Now, you spoke about Prema's links. Your assumption of the time [was] - was it your knowledge of the time that he was in touch with the ANC in a formal sense?

Well, I think, as I became closer to Prema, I guessed that he had extensive links. In fact, I think that's why I was also attracted to him as someone to work with, because one saw him as being someone who belonged to the Congress fold. And obviously a lot of this was confirmed, if you just look at his trial - you know, jailed with the escape [of Alex Moumbaris, Jenkin and Lee]. So, I mean really, the funny situation was that, when we were detained over the 1981, 1982 period - I was detained with the Hogan case] - I was detained quite late. But, you know, we weren't sure what the enemy had because we didn't know even amongst ourselves who was involved with what. We knew people had contacts and so on. And so we ourselves weren't sure what links Barbara had. We didn't know. I know I used to hear stories of how sick Barbara used to be. Obviously she wasn't so sick; she was going out to neighbouring countries, or whatever. So, I mean, we wouldn't ask; you would suspect and you would just keep it to yourself.

Now, can we go to Prema [Pravin] and Yunus. What was your assumption at that stage about any links they may have had with the ANC or the Party?

Sorry...

What were your assumptions about any links about any links they may have had at that time with the Party or the ANC?

Look, I don't think we distinguished between the [SA communist] party and the ANC...

So what did you call it then - the movement?

Ja, we would take them both, and we didn't --. Well, I think largely individual contacts. I think the form of contact would be, I guess, you'd go or send a message - Prema never had a passport, so he wouldn't go himself - but he would have some link with some individuals outside. Who those individuals were I didn't know.

We are talking now about Yunus and Pravin. What was your assumption about - did you assume they had links outside?

Well, I'll give you an example. Pravin went overseas during the Anti-SAIC debate.

I was going to come to this. This is the meeting in London?

Ja. I mean it leaked out in the Press as well. I mean at that time, I mean the only reason these things weren't advertised is because you would have serious problems when you got back into the country. So, it was clear that there were links there. Look, a lot of others would have - in terms of the Indian community, people like Dr Dadoo had this tremendous credibility in the Indian areas, and a lot of these people would, families, I think, had contact with such people; and a lot of these people were involved with us. So, that's another kind of contact that there was with the movement.

So how would you, in this period, formulate your relationship to the movement?

Look, I think our attitude was that we didn't need to have formal contacts in the sense where you would be a member. But clearly there were links with the movement. And one knew that, and we would get feedback. So, say, we would have a grouping of a few people - we would meet, we would discuss things; if we felt there was a need to, we would send things out.

And how would you do this?

Well, we wouldn't tell anyone how. But we would then decide to approach one or two individuals.

On whom you could rely to...

Just to convey a message.

And would you get a response?

In some cases, yes. But, look, when I think back, I think it was a very slow form of contact; it wasn't very reliable. Now and then we would get answers. But I think by and large, we operated as a collective, and we would decide. So, if we didn't get that info, we would - and not that we would even take that just blindly. And I must say, to the credit of the movement, the kind of advice we were getting - we never got [the] advice: Do one, two, three. Rather, it was - they would leave it to us to decide, like the did on the participation debate. Maybe offer their own advice and so on, but ask us to decide finally.

Now, did you have any assumptions about who it was in the external mission that you were eventually communicating with?

Look, I think there was a lot of contact probably with Dadoo directly. Now, I think, there was presumably contact with people like Mac [Maharaj]. Look, I don't know who else. I mean various people - Barbara had a contact with, what's his name?, Marius...

Schoon.

Schoon, for example. So there was a lot of contact through those kinds of people. Ja, there were a lot of individuals like that, but I wouldn't know offhand. You know the contact became more formal - I mean in that period around 1985. For the first time, if you'll remember, the UDF delegation met with the movement for the first time.

This is in Stockholm?

Ja.

Were you in that delegation?

No, no, I was in jail. It was people like Valli, Cheryl [Carolus] and so on. And I think that was the first open contact with the movement and there the kind of contact with the movement had changed, because then, if you wanted any advice, you would just refer it directly to the NEC or whatever structures, through people flying outside. So there was a lot of that kind of contact.

[End of Side A]

The other thing is that, look, I have kept lots of documents, and so on - it's all in a mess - but like I say of that early period. I've left some of it with SAHA.

With who?

Have you every been to the South African History Archives.

Who do I speak to?

Rozia. But look the TIC thing.

Where are they?

Just opposite the road, this Civic Towers, the second floor. Do you want the number?

Ja, please.

It's 403-2685. Speak to Rozia or Prax.

I say I have spoken to you?

Ja, but they are open to anybody.

Ja, that would be really useful.

Just check what they have got. But I've got a lot of our minutes of TIC meetings, for example. Not that the minutes - I mean the minutes were always written carefully, so we don't get prosecuted. A lot of this the cops got for the Delmas Trial, and there you will...

Ja, I've been through those exhibits.

Ja, those are probably the best record. Because they confiscated stuff from us.

Now, I would like to be more specific about this period, and move up to the formation of the UDF, which you mentioned earlier.

OK.

When you are involved in the Anti-SAIC campaign, you are involved also in promoting the Freedom Charter. You are involved in the Anti-Republic campaign. Now, at this time, do you get any distinct input from the external mission which comes through these various contacts that your grouping has?

Look, my difficulty now is just remembering. And I can't remember offhand. But I think that the movement on the one hand, in some ways, endorsed the kind of position we took on black consciousness. There was an AC [African Communist magazine] at that time on black consciousness...

You were getting ACs, were you?

Well, in a random way, not every issue. You know, things would just come in. And, if people got it, they would photocopy it and you would get it; that's it. Then, for example, I think our approach on mass work was encouraged as well by people outside. We were always - the younger people - were worried about launching the TIC as the TIC. But, you know, the greatest and the real advice wasn't really from outside. I think, in fact, just to give you an example. When we were going to launch the Transvaal Indian Congress, obviously the NIC was saying to us all the time: go ahead. The young people here weren't certain; I mean, I would say, some of the young people - people like Valli, myself, up to 1981, Monty Narsoo was involved with us, but he fell out after his detention. Then there were people like Faisal Mohammed, Dipak Patel. But it was a young group. Some of them are not even active today. But, and we were mainly a Lens group. And, I mean, a lot of our initial politics was in Lens. Valli was staying in Lens as well in that period. So we would have our community, residents associations - we formed a federation of residents associations. And a lot of this preceded civis being formed in townships. So we'd for example have lots of meetings with township people to get them to adopt this approach. Now, and that's where I think our best advice came. So we would have our own people actually involved. We'd have some contact with people who were - I mean the older Congress people, but they weren't really doing the pushing. I think we were pushing them more. But we also established a lot of contact with ex-Islanders. We'd have people like Amos Masondo, Kehla Shubane, Eric Molobi - a lot of them were released around that time of the 1980s, early 1980s. And, for example, I remember that our idea was that, for a long time--. Oh, sorry, I forgot, in our group would have been Firoz and Azar Cachalia. We had been looking at whether we should form a political organisation for Indians and Coloureds, or for Indians only. And we sort of felt we should form a body for Indians and Coloureds. When we met with some of the Island comrades who I think were really far ahead of many people politically. In terms of Congress politics, they were some of the few people around with good advice. And, through discussion with them, for example, they felt that a joint body for Coloureds and Indians wasn't on given the different level of organisation; and we needn't feel ashamed. And in fact they pushed hard for TIC, and I think...

Who, Amos and Eric and people like that?

Ja, and I think that sort of shifted our thinking, made us finally decide that we would go for the TIC. There was other consultation as well. It wasn't just with such people. I am saying that, for someone like myself, that played a greater role in influencing our thinking and bouncing off ideas. Because really, I don't think there was a situation where the movement also had answers. I think we had to - we saw our overall task as popularising the movement, building the ANC within the country. And I think we focussed on mass mobilisation rather than, say, mobilising specifically for MK or for other spheres in the struggle. And I think it is clear the movement underground was weak, to put it mildly. I think today we see that openly when you see all the fuck-ups in the ANC. But you know, and I think that just as a group, we built up links, we discussed things. When it came to the UDF thing, even though there was a very short period, we would draw in such people, and so we were able to carry them by the time we launched the Anti-SAIC, or when we had the Anti-SAIC conference, rather. I mean, I remember that, in the Cape, we could only invite - very few came: I think Trevor [Manuel], Gulam. But people like Johnny Issel didn't come. I don't know if he was banned at the time; I think he was. But we weren't able to consult them. Oh, the other people we worked very closely with, which I had forgotten, is the Saawu people; people like Sisa Njikelana, people like Thozamile Gqweta. So Thozamile also spoke at that conference. So, some of the people we were able to consult through the Saawu, Gawu network and so on.

Can I just go back to the popularisation of the Freedom Charter and the Anti-Republic Campaign and TASC - the three of them: were there communications from you to the external mission, from them to you, which you infer or know took place over that three year period, 1980-82, three years?

No, I don't think there was like organised contact, in the sense that we certainly didn't meet as TASC and say: You know, we need advice from the movement on one, two, three. Rather, it would be a few of us would want to know something; it would be communicated out through somebody; and, if an answer came through, fine it would be introduced into our ranks as if it was an original idea from someone there. Or people would say that they have heard from the movement that this is the movement's position. So, I think contact was more in that form. Because at that time it wasn't safe to acknowledge any contact. And, I mean, even the Anti-SAIC committee, for example, was a broadly based committe - we would try to incorporate lots of different people. People didn't necessarily have that level of discipline to keep quiet about some of this information. So, it was more along that way. And I have said before: More often than not, I think we took decisions on the ground. And, except from getting broad endorsement, the thinking, I think, started here. Quite frankly, I think the movement started to intervene maybe in a more pro-active way much later - I think after the UDF was launched. I think the idea of a front did take the movement back; I don't think they had thought about something like that.

Well, I'll come back to that later. Can we go up to the formation of the front. The end of 1982 and then into the first month or two of 1983. Do you remember any input from the external mission on the front?

There was no input. No.

Do you remember any input from people who you considered had links with the external mission on the formation of the front?

Look, that's a difficult one. I wouldn't know. I've said to you a lot of comrades in the NIC - people like Jerry Coovadia and so on - were looking at Boesak's idea. My idea was that they had picked up the idea from - Boesak's idea sort of sparked off discussion there. I don't think they had consulted outside.

You don't think Pravin [Gordhan]...

No.

And Yunus [Mohamed] had?

No. And also our contact wasn't so fast. I think the idea did evolve. I mean I am fairly convinced it evolved in the country in that circle. I just want to give you an example. Although we had contact with comrades in the white left, they were out of the whole thing, as well. YOu know, after the whole idea was adopted, I know people like Johnny and them...

Johnny Issel?

Ja, they were opposed to the idea. And we had to send people like Yunus Mohamed and Valli went down to Cape Town to talk to Johnny.

Johnny's always difficult, isn't he?

Ja, ja. And they then accepted the idea. Or, say, for example, we'd have to have lots of meetings. We had a meeting with comrades, say white comrades here, where we raised the idea. And, look, there was some sort of difference between some of us and people like Auret van Heerden at that point. But it had just begun. But they hadn't been consulted, because there wasn't time to consult them. So, you know, we had to face some flak from peoploe about why they weren't consulted...

About why you had taken the lead so precipitately?

Ja, and we had to argue why the decision was correct - even though we had to be hasty. And those point were accepted. Nobody was saying...

OK, now we know of the existence of a thing called the United Democratic Front. Now, in late 1982, did you get any sense of any feed in to your group, comrades scattered around it, of the need, feeding from the external mission, of the need to consolidate these different strands that had come together in the Anti-Republic campaign, the TASC campaign, the Freedom Charter Campaign, the Release Mandela Campaign - did you get any sense of any input on the need to consolidate these different forces which had been mobilised around these campaigns, in late 1982, from the external mission?

Look, I don't remember any such feedback from there. But I remember just broadly - you see at that time, we were all looking at the community councils, the coming elections and the tricameral. And I think there was - I mean there was discussion around the need for a more united response and one incorporating a broader constituencies. So, for example, there was a lot of contact, say, when - I want to take as an example, the anti-community councils campaign. There was a lot of contact, firstly through our Island contacts. Then, I mean contacts with people like Popo Molefe, for example, about mass work. They learned from us, we learned from them. There was very little mass work in the townships. I mean, I remember going to townships doing mass work, doing mass work the way we would do it in Lens, going door-to-door. I remember also going to the two AGMs around 1980 and 1981, those two years, it may have been 1982 as well, of the Committee of Ten; getting involved in the discussions to re-direct the organisation...

To create a mass mabse?

Ja, rather than just being a committee on top. And Popo got onto the committee, I remember. So, as far as I was concerned, I think that a lot of these ideas - I mean the movement may have endorsed broadly the mass approach because a lot of the comrades in the movement did come from that kind of background. We didn't; we had to learn that. And, for us, you know, just the fact that that kind of approach was being endorsed from the outside I think was the stamp of approval and sort of made us feel that we were on the right track, that we were doing broadly what the movement expected us to do, and so on. I mean, now and then I think there were individual approaches to people, and we would discuss it amongst ourselves. And I think we weren't very happy, for example, if you look at the Hogan case - and, in fact, now when I look back, I think the movement's been - I think a lot of people in exile weren't careful enough, and people were messed up purely because people outside didn't handle the information correctly, or in a sensitive enough way. And I think that the decision we took was the right one, about not having that kind of form of contact, or on that scale. And that, for us, it was more important to do movement work, rather than to say to someone: I'm a member of the movement.

Now, can I just move on then to the formation of the UDF. At the Transvaal Anti-SAIC congress in early Januarym, there's a paper produced by a guy called, I think Patel, it's called "The Road Ahead".

Right.

Who wrote it?

No, Mr Patel himself.

I understand that some people may have...

No, look, all the papers were workshopped, some more than others, depending on the speaker. I mean some people would object to what they would say as being told what to do. Not that they were - I mean people wanted to discuss it. NG Patel was one guy who would clearly - I think he's a kind of intellectual in his own right.

What does he do?

He's a lawyer. He's still around, in Fordsburg. And he would not get too involved in our mass campaigns. But he's a keen follower of the political situation here. So, if I remember at the time, his input was discussed. Ultimately, he wrote his speech himself. He certainly consulted. I think all of us at some point would be part of discussions around that paper.

Do you remember being consulted?

Yes, no, because his paper we saw as his key paper for the conference. So, there was consultation. I mean he was present at a meeting with the Natal comrades.

Who from the Natal comrades would have been there?

Well, say people like Jerry Coovadia. I don't know if Pravin Gordhan was there. George Sewerpersadh. But I would say Zac Yacoob, Yunus Mohamed - I mean those kinds of people. But George Sewerpersadh, others, were also present at those meetings.

So, and now you were also consulted on that paper. Can you remember who else from the Transvaal was consulted?

No, look, within the Anti-SAIC committee, there was broad consultation on that paper. Although, in the end, Mr Patel himself wrote that paper. I mean - I think Valli was quite involved with him as well, people like Solly Patel from Canada, I think, who he brainstormed with. He was from Canada - he just sat and listened to our ideas.

I also want to discuss with you - I understand from somebody else that some of you younger chaps here in the Transvaal were doubtful about forming a front in the few days before the TASC conference but that after a meeting with the NIC people from Natal your attitude changed. Do you have any recollection of something like this happening?

No, I did say to you that - I think the Natal comrades raised it with us earlier. We certainly...

When you say earlier, what do you mean?

I'm not sure of the period. It would have been just in the run-up to that conference.

Early January?

It may have been raised, and I think we didn't emphasise the thing sufficiently. We had a final meeting with them a week before. And I think they raised it - I don't know if they raised it there for the first time, because they wanted to transform the thing into more of a national conference. And our problem wasn't with regard to the idea, it was more with regard to the logistics and the processes. Certainly, I think that had they not pushed hard enough, I don't think we would have gone ahead. So, I would certainly say that they played a critical role in...

What was the attitude of people like Cassim Saloojee to the formation of the united front round about that time?

You know, people like Cassim were not that much involved with the Anti-SAIC committee. He - I remember he was ill at that point. He didn't get involved on the committee. He was consulted - well, I was telling you about those meetings that started around 1979, he used to attend those; he didn't get onto the Anti-SAIC committee. But he was certainly consulted all the time. And I think he was open to that idea. You see, I remember, like, in the last few days before the conference, we were meeting quite regularly and people like - when some of the Natal comrades came down a bit earlier as well, so, you know, a lot of the ideas were brainstormed, and it was accepted then, finally, I think, on the eve or one or two days before that the idea would be put. I think it was in the form of a commission. I remember Paul David may have chaired that committe.

I think Cassim chaired it, didn't he? Or was he the secretary?

No, he wasn't the secretary. Well, they may have, they may have chaired the commission.

So what did Paul David chair then?

No, I remember he was one of the people heading it.

This is the commission into whether or not to form a front following Boesak's call?

Ja.

Which Thozamile Gqweta had endorsed?

Ja. Ja, sorry, it was also checked out with people like Thozzie. And then the commission sat and they obviously accepted the idea. And it was then adopted in the form of a resolution. and obviously it was seen as a process. So nothing - all that was formed at that conference was a committee to help implement the idea. And I am not sure if people like Valli were even on that committee. But very soon after, people like Valli got much more involved, and I think Valli played quite a key role in pulling things together. I think Valli was very much a backroom boy. But with the UDF, I think he sort of assumed a higher profile. He got involved in the Transvaal UDF as a secretary with Popo Molefe.

Now, after the decision to form the front, and before the August launch, are you aware in your group of any major endorsement or clear strategising, clear thinking or advice, input that comes from the external mission?

Look again, it's a long time ago. And I have trained myself to forget a lot of things. But I think there was some form of consultation, if I remember correctly. I don't know at what period Valli went overseas, because at some point he also went overseas.

Before the formation of the UDF?

I'm not sure whether it was before or after. But it may have been just before. So he may have consulted with people. I seem to remember it was checked with the movement and the idea was accepted. In fact, the impression I got was that people were very excited about the idea. If I remember correctly, I think even RAdio Freedom talked about the idea. So, we definitely got, I think, fairly positive feedback on the idea. I think, though, a lot of the ideas about the broadness, forming a front evolved in subsequent discussions.

Now, did you have any knowledge at all - I know there has been a courtcase into all this - had you been at all aware of the January 8 address which had come out in January 1983 calling for a united front - at the time that it was formed?

Did OR [Tambo] call for that on January 8?

OR. Ja.

Now that you mention it, I think we were.

You were aware?

We were aware.

When you went into the TASC conference...?

We were aware of that call, ja.

Right. Do you remember how you were aware of it?

Um, well, I mean, people just generally in that period, everyone would, I think, try and hear the speech, or get a copy of it soon after.

Well, I brought a copy in, I know.

Well, I remember we had an idea - now that you mention it, you know - that OR [Tambo] had also made that call. So we felt quite confident that we were moving...

But you can say with certainty that you were aware of that call at that time?

No we were. I remember that. Where I think we differed is that I am not sure whether the movement had thought through the idea also fully. I think there was a mix.

I've asked you all these questions because in - well, let me put it this way: Did you ever hear of a document referred to as the Report of the Poiitico-Military Strategy Commission of 1979? Or the Green Book? Did you ever hear reference to that before the decision was taken by the TASC conference to form the United Democratic Front?

No.

Did you hear about that subsequently in 1983, 1984 at all?

Well, not specifically around those documents.

Did you ever hear reference in late 1982 through to August 1983: Did you ever hear reference to guidelines of the Revolutionary Council on the formation of a front?

No.

Not? Did you ever get any sense that there was perhaps - and please stick in that time - that there was perhaps some feed-in what comrades in Natal, some of the African comrades in the Transvaal of a distinctly, well-formulated documentary kind on the formation of a front?

No.

Not?

Look, there were - I know, in that period, I do remember the movement getting involved in the discussion through, as I said, people going outside, having discussions...

Which period are we talking about now?

Well, soon after the decision to launch the UDF. I don't remember specifics, and I remember a lot of interaction. But ultimately, I mean, and I attended a lot of the sort of meetings, but I think a lot of decisions were then finally taken on the ground. I don't think there was any advice that: You must do it this way. The movement was certainly producing...

Do you know who these comrades were meeting outside?

No. Various people, I suppose, would have been available outside. I wouldn't know who.

OK, well, just let me say then that I have just written a lengthy paper on this Politico-Military Strategy Commission, The Green Book, which is written in 1979. It calls specifically for the formation of a front, and it outlines a scenario which is about as close...

Really...

As you can get to the UDF as is possible. And that guidelines were issued by the RC in late 1982 on consolidating these different strands and moving them towards some sort of front.

Ja.

Not a united democratic front. And subsequently some RC guidelines were issued after the decision inside to form the front in 1983, to attempt to--. When I say guidelines I mean precisely guidelines, not, as you have pointed out, instructions - but points of guidance which would be appropriate and which could be creatively applied by people on the ground.

Look, I mean the only reason...

Does that surprise you?

No, no, I am not surprised. I think that there was documentation. And obviously, you know, one would read and throw things away. But you know it wasn't as if that, in an organised way, literature was coming in and people were discussing, you know, specifically, this is the movement's guidelines, this is how we act and so on. I think if we did that in that way, I certainly would have heard. But I mean inputs were coming in all the time, and I am sure different groups would take that and apply it in their own situation. I'll just give you an example, you know, soon after the front was launched. For example, we produced our own paper here. In fact, I have tried to see if I have got a copy, because I knew I kept a copy, but it's lost now. I remember Azar coming with the position, and we felt that was the position - not that it was deciding finally, [it was] just the way we saw the front. And Valli used that as the basis to go and consult with people and, broadly, a lot of those ideas were accepted.

This is between January and August 1983?

Ja. But very soon after January. And I don't think we were just using movement documents, going around to consult with people.

You see what I am trying to do - you can see what I am trying to do is what I said at the beginning - I am trying to work out the relationship between the creativity of a group of comrades on the ground, who have some relationship with the movement, and with - how do you say? - almost fantasy blueprints developed four years before which I know, incidentally, were not by any manner of means consistently pursued.

Ja.

What I am trying to assess is whether or not the 1979 document was actually fantasy and prophesy rather than a working document. I think it's more the former than it is the latter. And this is coming from the interviews with people in the external mission in the period before 1979 and 1983. So there is this kind of confluence of energies.

I would argue that in 1979, I don't think the movement was even able to form a front because there was nothing on the ground.

Right.

And I really don't think anything could have been formed before the actual formation of the UDF.

I would agree with that.

You know, the other factor that was operating was that the black consciousness people were also talking of a front. and they hadn't quite, I think - I think they had one, some sort of resolution, althought the Unity Movement also claimed that they had also called for a united front. Now, I mean, it was in that context, I think, a lot of us would even have seen the movement's call as a propaganda thing. And, if you went back in history, you would find in some document the movement having actually made such a call. I remember the BC people accused us of hijacking their idea. And then they went on to form the National Forum. And the actual formation of the first structure of the National Forum was before the UDF because...

It was June 14th or something, because I went to the meeting...

At Hammanskraal. And I mean we felt we weren't going to allow them to force us to accelerate our pace.

You were NOT going to allow them, did you say?

No, Because, although we were mindful of that, but we saw a clear process of getting together the regions. Because you remember there were all regional elections first. And that culminated in a national launch. And look, in forming the UDF, it was the first time we were coming together. It was very much like a - I remember the words used by one of our guys - like a "Currie Cup", where regions would compete. In fact, you see that now, by the way, in the ANC, that people are competing at that level. And the Western Cape will insist this, and that's why we would have three presidents, not one president - because the agreement was Ma Sisulu would be the first president. But the Cape problems had some problem with Fedtraw. And you know in the Western Cape, they had two women's groups. And at the last minute, Natal began to push. Right up to the last moment, I mean, Mama was going to be the sole president...

Mama Sisulu?

Yes, and then Natal pushed, and then Western Cape pushed. So you had three presidents. And then there was a lot of--. I mean take people like Aubrey Mokoena - I mean he was nothing in the democratic movement, he was BC, and we heard about him and we approached him. He certainly didn't deliver the speech he was supposed to. And he had had no real working relationship with the democratic movement. Then there were people like - we even went to people like Mamphele Ramphele - she was approached. I mean we were very broad. We went to lots of people. And a lot of people just got together for the first time. I mean people like - even people like Cassim Saloojee weren't big deals in the political movement before. I mean there was a lot of planning, discussion, debate, and you had to take all the regional factors into account.

[End of interview]

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.