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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
23 Oct 2003: Mvelase, Dipuo
POM Perhaps you could tell me first a little bit about yourself, where and when you were born, growing up, going to school, how you got involved in the struggle, where that led you to.
DM OK, I'm not used to talking about me, it's a new experience. I was born in 1965 on 5 July in Alex and I grew up there, went through both my primary and secondary education there. I got involved in student politics in 1980 when I went to high school.
POM Was the high school in Alex?
DM In Alex, Minerva High School, we were the first group, it was a new school that had just been opened. Before then Alex only had one high school so this was the second high school that was being established in Alex and we were the first group that opened that high school. Now Alex has five high schools. Got involved in student politics when I was at high school and amongst the students there was a particular student who was already exposed to underground reading material, or banned material, who then began to gradually introduce us to it. One of the programmes that used to be there in Alex over Saturdays was to have what we called supplementary education so on Saturdays the leaders of the students' organisations arranged with some students who were also activists at university, Carl Niehaus
POM He was in the last government, he was Ambassador to
DM Yes he was an Ambassador, he's no longer an Ambassador now. I think he's back, the last time I spoke to him he was around. He was one of those students at Wits, he was studying theology at Wits, who organised other students to assist high school students in Alex so he was part of the people who were providing what we used to call supplementary classes at Alex but he was already also involved in ANC activities underground and exposed us to some of the material and reading and one gradually got involved, while involved in the student politics, got exposed to materials about the ANC itself and the Communist Party.
That was in the eighties, 1981/82. But the turning point at the personal level was with the hanging of the MK cadres, there were six of them sentenced to death and three were hanged I think it was on 3 June, somewhere in June 1983. It was a turning point in the sense that when you get involved in student politics you never think about getting involved in the armed struggle and all those things, it was kind of a far-fetched idea, it's an idea that one would discuss, it wasn't an idea that would cross my mind largely because my Mum used to be a domestic worker so she used to live at her work place in Randburg so I was responsible for my brothers and sisters. We stayed with my Granny, we were five kids. I couldn't imagine leaving them on their own with my Granny so it was my responsibility to look after them, assist them with their homework, take care of them. So leaving the country and getting involved in the armed struggle, just leaving the country was not an option until at that point when those guys were hanged.
It was too scary because there were some guys, for instance Motaung, because the guys were from Soweto, in terms of what was in the newspapers, that were hanged, it was kind of too close for comfort because you used to during the student programmes play netball in Soweto, soccer matches between schools. So it was familiar and if somebody from Soweto was hanged it was just too close on the one hand. But also it was a feeling that if there is somebody out there who thinks they have the power to take somebody's life in that particular way, my family is next, my friends are next, so it was I don't know how to explain it, it was encroaching on me. I was feeling like I can't escape this. It just can't be allowed to go beyond, something has to be done to stop this. For the first time the idea of an armed struggle appealed to me actually at a personal level.
I guess it was still a bit of a theory because I remember we had a night vigil when it was announced that they were going to be hanged, we thought they won't do it. We had a night vigil, we stayed awake and got the first newspapers in the early hours of the morning, around four o'clock, and it was unreal. It was so unreal, very unreal but actually they did it, they actually hanged them. I remember that morning buses were banned, in the early hours of the morning, because in Alex we apparently don't have buses but we still had Putco buses that were the main mode of transport. But also I think, especially amongst people like me who were relatively new in those processes, that was a shock reaction to see actually the system, they were actually dead.
The guy who was the head was also my boyfriend, Vincent Tshabalala. We are actually setting up currently an education trust in Alexandra to keep the memory alive because he was one of the key inspirations in terms of the youth organisations, politics in Alex. He was the one who was providing us with reading material and he was also the leader of our student movement in Alex and linking up with Carl Niehaus and those people in Alex.
So the idea appealed but also there was a whole situation that Carl was beginning to be exposed. Later on it was revealed that there were enemy agents so people around him were in danger particularly and there was a general decision to leave the country. But for me I was kind of haunted by the hanging and I guess it happened with Solomon Melange, I didn't accept reading about it, and one followed the case from the time of happening to the actual execution so it was quite real, it wasn't like a story you read about like Solomon Mahlangu. But also to a certain extent Pretoria was a bit far in terms of the closeness of it immediately affecting you, in that sense it was a bit far. I guess one always expects to explain yourself out of not doing certain things but at that point it felt a bit far to say, ja, no, fine, but it's also a story that I've read in the Mayibuye's at that point of the ANC and African Communist. It was a story and something that had happened.
Then we left the country we actually stayed with Carl. He used to stay here in Berea for some time and then he moved to stay at Rosettenville.
POM How many of you were there?
DM We were four. And then we moved, because there was a thing that the enemy might actually know about it.
POM Were you in any structure at that point, any underground structure?
POM You had just decided you're going to get out of the country.
DM Yes, we were in student structures. We were not in the ANC structures at that point. But Vincent was in the structures, kind of thing I guess. He wouldn't tell everybody, he didn't expose, all we knew was to get material and we were happy with that, reading and listening to the January 8th statements of Oliver Tambo. Then we left. We stayed briefly with Carl here while we were preparing to leave.
POM You stayed with?
DM Carl Niehaus. We stayed a few days with him here, he used to have a place in Berea and he had an underground library.
POM He had an underground library?
DM You go underneath and then there were all these books. I think it was a hiding place. One used to spend a lot of time there reading. Then we left, we stayed at Rosettenville at the church.
POM Which church?
DM Here in Rosettenville. It's a Catholic place actually, St Martins in Rosettenville here in Jo'burg. We stayed there for some time and the clerics were taking care of us. It's a Catholic place so it's much more Fathers and Sisters that live there. They looked after us until the night that we left. We drove to Botswana, the border.
POM Did you have any trouble crossing the border?
DM No, actually what happened is that on our way we got stuck.
POM You got stuck?
DM Exactly, which was a bit weird actually but later on we drove off and when we were crossing we were actually nearly shot and later we discovered that the guy who was transporting us was a double agent.
POM Oh yes?
DM Yes, so we, I don't know
POM So you nearly got shot?
DM Yes when we were crossing the border and then we got arrested. We nearly got shot by the Botswana police and then they arrested us at the local clinic where we were supposed to meet our contact person. We stayed in the refugee camp for some time and then we were given an option, as usual in the ANC, of either going to the army or going to school, to actually think about it. I had already made a decision long ago in June when those guys were hanged to say we actually have to stop this, I have to make sure that this system doesn't live a day longer and the only way to do it is to actually get involved in the armed struggle. It was just after my seventeenth birthday.
POM So at this point did you become a member, inducted in the ANC and the SACP?
DM I actually joined the SACP, not joined, recruited to the SACP later actually when I was already trained in Angola. I joined the ANC when you are in the refugee camp you then choose the organisation that you're coming for. Mine was an obvious choice anyway, I was the ANC, and then we left Botswana and got transported to Zambia. In Zambia we were again given options of whether we want to pursue our studies or want to join the armed struggle and I decided I wanted to join the army and I left after a few months before they keep you longer there in Zambia, I guess, in case you change your mind. Then I left and a month or two later I was taken to Angola.
POM How long did you spend in Angola?
DM I got to Angola 1983, towards the end of the year, and I left Angola, finally when I left Angola it was when I went to work in Botswana, that was 1987.
POM So you were four years in Angola?
POM Was that four years of you were trained?
DM No. I got my training and when I completed my training then I was an instructor, a political instructor.
POM A political instructor?
DM Yes I was a political instructor, I was a Platoon Commissar, then I was a political instructor but I also was an auxiliary instructor.
POM You must have been a bright star.
DM I don't know. Then I left, I went to the Soviet Union.
POM Who was doing the training in Angola, it was being done by MK people?
DM MK, it was done by MK.
POM Then in 1987 they - ?
DM When I was in Angola I lived solely in the camp. When we finished training the others were deployed. Like for instance in 1985 I was the deputy leader of the MK delegation to the ANC conference in Kabwe.
POM Oh you were?
DM Yes. Then I had to go to Moscow to some youth conference and I refused.
POM To go to Moscow?
DM Yes, for the youth conference, my argument at that point I was too scared that then there will be a theory that I am exposed, then I can't go home and then you get involved in diplomatic rows if you go to these public conferences, international conferences. That was my theory, it might not have had any basis. I came back from Kabwe and then I went to Kenya and before I went to Kenya I got Chris Hani to commit to me to say, because I said I would go to this women's conference, it was a UN women's conference in Kenya, on condition that it wouldn't prejudice my opportunity to go home because when I left the country it was to come here and get a gun and go back and that's how I looked at my life in Angola, to try and use the opportunity to learn as much as I can so that I can be ready to go home. I was always in transit, that's how I saw it. Anything that seems to be introducing an element of permanency scared me and that's why I insisted that I live in the camp unless I am going to the frontline states or I'm coming home. That's the only condition I will leave the camp. I spent most of the time if I wasn't going for training overseas, I stayed in the camp.
POM Did you do training overseas in - ?
DM I went to Party School, Political School, in Moscow. I went there. And then I went again when I was preparing to come underground, come in the country.
POM Was that political training more than military training?
DM It was political training. Later on I did military training but that's when I was preparing to come into the country.
POM That would have been about 1986/7?
DM 1987/88 because I left Angola in 1987 to go to Botswana. I worked in the underground in Botswana responsible for a number of units in the country. It was when I was in Botswana that I was recruited to join Vula which initially I refused because I thought it was some scheme of getting me to Lusaka so until Comrade Chris (Hani) issued an instruction and told me that I had to go - he was one of those few people that you can't defy, he was an amazing human being.
POM I interviewed him about five times.
DM Then I left Botswana and soon I was recruited into Vula.
POM So you went from Botswana.
DM To Lusaka.
POM To Lusaka.
DM And I flew from Lusaka, because around Vula what they did was to create a story so I had to come back and I stayed in Zambia for some time and there was a whole story that gets spread around that I'm disgruntled, I'm going to school, because everybody knew I was anxious about going home so if I disappear people who are working for the system, the organisation, would report to the system or some people will know that I've come into the country so we needed to create an environment of disgruntlement and I can say this armed struggle story, it's not working out, I want to go to school.
Then I went to Moscow and I came back and then there was a whole thing that I'm going to study in England and that's when I came into the country. Study in England because I'm tired of this armed struggle story. That's when I came into the country.
POM Did you have trouble getting into the country?
DM No actually, I went to Zimbabwe, I stayed there for a few days and then there's a comrade who then went with me to Swaziland, she was Acting MD of the Land Bank, Tootsie Memela, so I went with her to Swaziland. I had to apply for a passport to come to SA. We went to one of the regions there to go and apply for the thing. We had done everything, I just messed up in the end. When I was leaving somebody suspected that something is not kosher here because my story was that my father used to work in SA as a miner and he is from Swaziland so I've crossed the border illegally looking for my family so I want to come back to finish my studies here, that kind of story. So they had done everything and agreed to it. And then when I was about to leave somebody asked me something in deep Swazi and I couldn't answer and they took the passport back. So we then decided to try in Mbabane directly and got somebody to act as my family and I got a legal passport and I flew into SA.
POM You got a legal passport?
POM You were entitled to one, you're a South African.
DM I was not entitled to one but I was pretending to be a Swazi. My father is Swazi so if my father is Swazi that makes me Swazi but I was born in SA because my mother is in SA so I am disgruntled, my Mum has remarried and this man is treating me badly, so I am searching for my father and I found my relatives, I'm trying to get a passport so I can come back to SA to study and finish up my studies.
POM So you are actually entitled to a Swazi passport?
DM Yes. I got a legal passport then.
POM So after all that trouble and all that story you went ahead and got a legal passport.
DM I got a legal passport yes. They even found out from the aunts that we were trying to do it legally but with a story. Then I prepared to come to SA, then I came to SA, flew into SA. My story at the airport in Durban, I flew into Durban, was that I bought a fake ring that I bought in Holland, because I went to Holland after training in Moscow, for disguise, to prepare me to disguise. Actually I was looking the other day at some of the pictures that were in the book that was written by Conny on the disguises, Conny used to head the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Holland. Conny Braam. I spent some time in Holland. So I bought a ring, these fake rings you buy at the flea market for about five rand or something, so I wore that, it had some bottle things like diamonds and my story at the airport here was that I'm coming here to buy clothes, I'm engaged, I'm about to get married, I'm coming to SA because Swazis shop in SA, to buy clothes for my wedding. And this guy disappeared with my passport so I was revising one of the stories that I had worked out, what do I say when I get arrested at the airport. Then he came back and I asked him, "Was there a problem?" He said no, he was checking whether the new rules around people from the neighbouring states because a number of them come a hundred times to come and renew the passport to extend their stay so he was checking whether the new rules the new rules are that you are given three months to stay and after that it can't be renewed, you have to leave. Because in the past they gave you two weeks or whatever time you want to ask and then people renew continuously. So now it's three months, after three months you have to leave, so you're legal in the country. That got sorted out at the airport and I got into a taxi, went to stay in the hotel where I was to meet Siphiwe.
POM Which hotel did you go to?
DM I stayed at the Holiday Inn I think.
POM At the airport was it?
DM No, no, in Durban on the beach front. So I took a taxi from the airport to Durban, the town, the city, and I stayed there and I was changing hotels. We had agreed that after three days if I don't make connections with Siphiwe Nyanda then I will change hotels. So I changed hotels and the day that I changed the hotel that's the day that I linked up with him actually.
When I was flying from Swaziland to Durban there was a gentleman who had a brown suitcase, (you know this small suitcase?) that was in the same plane with me and I realised one morning at breakfast that he's actually in the same hotel as me which was kind of it was a busy time for the hotel, it was during May, it was the Comrades Marathon, so the day that I checked out he disappeared. I never saw him, that's the day that I linked up with Siphiwe. But I stayed some time in Durban not working actually.
POM Were you in a safe house now?
DM Yes I was staying with Siphiwe Nyanda in the safe house. He picked me up and we went up and then I stayed in the safe house. For some time I was staying at home and not doing much which was worrying me and later on Siphiwe told me that, no, they were not sure about me. There was a whole thing that I was too calm at the airport. I was not scared or anything so they were worried.
POM That should have been a recommendation.
DM I was frozen for some time so that they could do all the checks and they were comfortable that I'm clean. As I say I wasn't doing much work for that period. Finally told me about this guy that I saw who was on the plane with me and that I saw at the hotel that actually he was checking me out so that if anything happens he can then inform them, if I get arrested or whatever, and I guess it's him who reported to them. Actually for me on the other hand the excitement that I'm home - one of my biggest fears was dying in exile actually, that was one of my biggest fears that I would die having not done at least what I thought I needed to do. So that used to be one of my biggest fears so I was just too excited about being home. And for a moment the idea of being illegal and stuff like that was not crossing my mind so I was a bit calm, I was a lot calmer and relaxed, that inner peace of hey, I'm home.
POM So you were in the safe house doing nothing for how long?
DM I think it was three weeks or a month actually.
POM Were you free to go out and about?
DM No I couldn't go anywhere because I didn't even know the place. This was in a suburb in Avoca which is a relatively well off suburb. So if I walk out where would I say I'm going? I wouldn't know where to go and stuff like that. Siphiwe would come in and do whatever and leave and I was feeling also impatient about it. But, yes, then I got involved in the action.
POM What happened after that? Did you meet Mac?
DM Yes, after I was I guess that's when I was fine, then I was introduced to Mac.
POM Did he arrive in a disguise?
DM I went to this house which I later lived in in Kenville, I went with Siphiwe there. Then I met this man, I thought I knew this face, it's familiar but I don't know him. He was in disguise, he had taken off his beard and stuff. Then he laughed and then I knew that I know this voice and I said, "What are you doing here? You're supposed to be dying in Moscow, you have so much smoke in your head."
POM Had you met him in Lusaka before?
DM Yes, but also he used to be one of those people, those heroes that inspire you all the time, the military strategist, so we all knew about him and there was a whole story around that he's in Moscow. We all knew that he smoked too much.
POM He's still at it.
DM I know. So there was a story around that. I heard the story when I was still in Botswana actually that he is so sick, he's in some health place in Moscow, a hospital, so much smoke in his head because of smoking, sometimes he's unstable which was a bit scary. And now what's he doing here? So when I met him here in Durban I said, "What are you doing here? You're supposed to be dying in Moscow?" That's how I met him and we started talking. He actually was asking me a lot of questions about the people in exile, who is where and whatever. I knew this voice, I'd heard this voice before, and also the kinds of questions he was asking me it can't be, it can't be Mac, Mac is supposed to be in Moscow, but he was asking me all sorts of questions which made me think it's him and then he laughed and then I knew it was him. That's how I met him. Later on I also met Ronnie Kasrils in the same way, the voice was also under this heavy disguise.
POM Who did you work with?
DM I worked very closely with Siphiwe and from time to time I interacted with Mac because he was the overall Commander in Chief. So the person that I worked with, because I worked much more in the townships in terms of training people, and even when I stayed in Kenville I trained Dipak Patel, Soraya, all those people. I trained them in terms of the use of weapons. But I worked much more in training the units in the townships. The person that I worked much more closely with was
POM Was this at a time of a lot of violence in the townships?
DM A lot of violence in the townships. I also had a bedroom in two places in Kwamashu where I used to live when I'm not at the main house in Kenville.
POM So were you involved in any of the violence between the IFP and the ANC?
DM Yes in Kwamashu for example it was also very, very intense. I used to work with the units that were fighting back in the K section which was just opposite Lindelani which was the main place where Inkatha was located. We were on the borderline actually. We actually asked the old lady who used to live there, and I used to live with her there when I'm in the township, not to leave because of the intensity lots of people were leaving that area so we needed the house so that we could use it and we asked her not to leave so I could be able to have an accommodation there. I worked a lot with those units in terms of fighting and training them, primarily in training them to be able to
POM Were you engaged in physical fighting yourself?
DM Only in one or two incidents.
POM So when Nyanda was arrested. First of all there were two stages, Mandela was released, the Vula operations continued, were you still training people?
DM Actually the day I got arrested I was coming back from the township. I had a sinus problem so I had an appointment with a doctor in the hospital to sort out my sinuses, so I was in the township training, working in the night, because a number of people that I worked with were working, Pick 'n Pay and other places, that we were training. So we would normally do things in the evening and early hours of the morning so I would stay in, I had a back room in the E Section. Actually the day I got arrested I wasn't supposed to go to the house.
POM This is Nyanda's house is it, the safe house?
DM It's the safe house, yes. I was moving from my bedroom which is another safe house in Kwamashu but I had forgotten my card to take to the hospital for my sinus so I decided that what I would do is to, because I still had time before people come back from work, I will quickly go to the house and get my card and then come back for the training to finalise my work with the units that I was working with that night. I went there and I got arrested but throughout I think I knew something is not right but I couldn't pinpoint what it was. I normally said maybe it's because at that point in time the release of Mandela and the unbanning of organisations and seeing people openly holding ANC flags led to a situation where one was not as careful, I think, and some of the signs that I had that day I guess if it was a different time I would have obeyed them, I would have much more taken cognisance of them than I did.
For example, I left the house at about eleven or twelve and I waited at the taxi rank and allowed taxis to go, I didn't get into a taxi I think for about 45 minutes or something. For some reason I couldn't just do it, I was thinking maybe I shouldn't go, maybe I should do it tomorrow, maybe and in the end I said, hey you know what, I'm wasting time, let me do this and get done with it. When I got off the taxi I had to take a bus that comes closer to where I was living. I didn't take a bus that day, I walked, and to get to the house you can either take a bus which drops you at the top end which is where the shop is or when you walk you can come up and then you have to go up the stairs. As I was going up the stairs there were people who seemed to be fixing things there and I thought this is funny. I actually sat on the stairs as I was going up because the houses on the top on the other side, there's another street there, so the steps join the next street. I actually said this is really who are these people who are fixing? Telkom lines? We've got Telkom lines in the road. I couldn't make of it, they were wearing overalls and you could see that these overalls were dirty. It wasn't and I said, you know what? I'm wasting time, I'd better go and do this, do this thing quickly and go. And I left them and as I was getting into the house, I stood at the corner and spoke to somebody who stays nearby and I was chatting to her and after that I left. I was taking more time getting into the house and as I was getting into the stairs I looked and saw something is wrong with this curtain. I didn't leave this curtain in this state. I left Peter in the house but Peter wouldn't actually, he wasn't allowed to move anything.
POM Peter is?
DM Now called Raymond Lalla. He's Deputy Commissioner in the police. And I said, "But he wouldn't do it because he's not allowed to shift things." I stood and I was looking at this window and I was trying to think, did I do it? No I didn't. I couldn't have made that mistake. I said to myself that maybe Farieda came in and maybe she did that and I said, "Goodness, I don't know why I'm wasting so much time because it's getting late." As I was going down the stairs, just when I knocked the knocker, I thought Peter is there, he will open for me, and the door opened, they just went for me and closed the door quickly. Then as I was at the door I saw Siphiwe because at that point in time I realised that, gee, and my mind was racing, who else is arrested? But as I was there in the door Siphiwe was being moved from one room to the communications, another room which we used for communications, and in the other room there were training materials. He was being moved from that group and I kind of caught a glimpse of him and they kind of pushed me but at least I saw him and I said to myself, "OK, Siphiwe is arrested, two people", and my mind was racing about others. They were asking me also just questions. Half the time I wasn't really hearing them because I was thinking about what's next and they beat me up there and whatever and then they took me away for interrogation.
POM Where did they take you to?
DM To CR Swart for interrogation. We were there and then when they took me to
POM When you were interrogated was it harsh interrogation?
DM The first night we didn't sleep at all, you were tied to a chair.
POM Were you in a cell on your own?
DM No, no, they didn't take me to a cell the first day. I was in an interrogation room in an office. That's what they did the first night.
POM So you spent the first night tied to a chair?
DM Yes and then the following day I was then taken to this police station, Brighton Beach, then I had interrogations every day but I was staying on my own in the cell.
POM So you didn't know what was happening?
DM I only knew that Siphiwe was arrested. I didn't know whether anybody else was arrested and that was the key issue that was concerning me actually, so even when they were interrogating me much more I was thinking more about who else is arrested, trying to get from the kinds of questions they're asking who was arrested and stuff like that. But the decision I made at that point was the only person if I'm asked I'm going to speak about is Siphiwe because they already had him. The rest I don't know, but also key for me was that the people that are in the township that I was working with I would never, never tell about them because those are the people that it doesn't matter how bad it gets. I was thinking that maybe that's their biggest worry themselves and they might actually panic and then do things that are out of character which tends to compromise them. Those are the people that I completely switched off, blocked in my mind about and spoke about I've just come in, I don't know much, I just came in now just from town, and that was my story. They wanted to know how I came into the country, what I was involved in and throughout my position was that I've never gone anywhere else except in that house. I was actually new, I was still to be taken through what I'm supposed to do.
POM Sorry, you had never gone anywhere else other than?
DM That was my story when I was interrogated.
POM That you stayed in that house and that
DM That I've just recently come so I was still to be allocated tasks. I don't know what task I was going to do.
POM So you said, 'Yes, I'm a member of MK'?
DM No, they already knew. You see when they had Siphiwe, when they came there they already had some information. Remember in the house they found the laptop which we used for communication. They also found the training materials. But because they also had Siphiwe already they already knew that we're MK so when they got me, in the house actually I said, "I'm a domestic worker here", but they already knew my name, they said, "Brenda, don't play games with us." That was the name I was using there. So clearly at that point they had some information. Oh they also had Peter because they found him in the house. Those were the three people that they had and those were the people that I was comfortable that I know that now they are arrested. But they already knew, by the time they got me they already knew that I'm a member of MK and ANC.
POM So you stuck to your story?
DM I stuck to the story. I think the interrogation went on for a very long time.
POM And you had no access to anybody, did you?
DM No, except when I went to the District Surgeon. I realised that this District Surgeon was also in the inner circles of Vula actually.
POM That was?
DM He worked for the government then. The District Surgeon, the doctor, when you're sick as a prisoner you get sent there, he was already involved because when I got there she briefed me, she will write me a note when I'm in there because we couldn't speak to say so-and-so and so-and-so is arrested. At some point they also arranged where I could come at a time when Susannah was coming, another lady that we were working with also.
POM What was her name?
DM Susannah Tshabalala.
POM Is she still a doctor?
DM She's not a doctor, we used to work underground with her. She also got arrested. So the doctor, I've forgotten what the doctor's name was.
POM The District Surgeon?
DM The District Surgeon, she will write me a note about who else is arrested. But anyway initially I was suspicious. When I go for consultation, because when you go in to see a doctor the policeman stands outside and it's you and the doctor so she will write me a note to say so-and-so is arrested and so-and-so.
POM She would do that to you?
DM To me, to tell me how things are. That's how I knew actually that Mac is arrested. When I visited the District Surgeon she told me. Then what happened is that I had, I didn't have it, but she said I had it something in my eye, because I had to be sent to a specialist who was also in the circle, who was then giving me a much more better briefing about Mac is arrested and also showed me some of the newspapers about what is happening and stuff like that which was quite helpful actually because it gives you a sense of orientation around where things are, but also what's happening politically out there.
POM Because you were completely isolated.
DM Because when you're there you're very isolated.
POM The ANC and everybody else was free to go about their business and wave their flags and you were being interrogated.
POM So you were interrogated for how long?
DM We got arrested in August, I know because I missed the World Cup, the last part of the World Cup. Actually when I was in prison one of the things that the black policemen were looking often, were fascinated by the fact that I used to be chained and then somebody used to guard my cell so they couldn't understand
POM You were chained?
DM And also I had leg irons.
POM And shackled, in your cell?
POM This was at Brighton Beach.
DM Yes. When I left my cell to go for interrogation, which is 100 metres, they would shackle me and have four people escorting me. So the black policeman was fascinated because I was very thin and very small, I was 23/24 I think, they were fascinated by this, "What have you done?" When I'm in the cell somebody would be guarding, I'm under lock and key.
POM Would they take the shackles off?
DM They would take the shackles off, yes, but they would still guard outside. They would lock three doors and still guard outside so it kind of raised an interest in what have you done actually, gee, my goodness. Because also the ANC was already unbanned and Mandela was free so I guess it didn't make sense, "Gee, are you a mass murderer or something?" So they took interest. They told me about the scores, about who won, I think Germany won or something.
POM Germany won that year, yes. And Brazil.
DM So then they charged me because half the time I would be on my own. You see I didn't have a problem with physical torture actually.
POM What kind of physical torture did they give you?
DM Electric shocks, they would hang me by my feet with my head you feel like blood is coming out of your eyes and your forehead, hanging upside down, putting me in a tube and pressing me and passing out in that process, beating me up generally.
POM This was on a daily basis?
DM No they would do it, remember they would have to manage the issue of in the first stages it was quite intense, it would be literally every day, the interrogation was every day where you were questioned from morning to evening. They would take turns.
POM Can you remember the names of the guys who interrogated you?
DM No actually, there was one who I actually once saw him at the airport in Durban.
DM Yes, sitting with the wife and the kids and I went there to say hi, and I said to the son, "Do you know what your Dad does for a living?" And I left, I didn't say much. What was his name? He's the kind, the sweet, soft policeman, you know those kind.
POM Good cop, bad cop. Yes.
DM I'm trying to help you out here.
POM Yes, he's the good cop.
DM I'm trying to help you out here so you'd better help me too kind of thing. Then towards the end I remember they sent some they were saying they were from Pretoria and that's when I hated the most because it hurt most. They brought pictures of Vincent, my boyfriend who died, he died in a shootout in Alexandra. Vincent Tshabalala. He died in a shoot out, he was involved in a shoot out with the police and then he ran out of ammunition and then he blew himself up with a grenade, so they brought pictures of him. For the first time throughout the interrogation, it was now into four months, five months, I cried actually. Yes, because I don't know, I guess they had done their homework around it on how it will affect me.
POM Was that the first time you'd seen him?
DM Dead, because for me I had heard that he had died and stuff like that but it wasn't real. People you love don't die, kind of thing. I couldn't relate that to him so I was in my head thinking it was a mistaken identity, he might be arrested and under a false name somewhere. Though it was in the newspapers, we had the news briefings when I was in Angola actually, the reports about his funeral and the uprising he caused in Alex and stuff like that. Yes, I couldn't associate death with him so it didn't make sense and it hit me for the first time that it actually could. Then after that they left me and the following day they started the interrogation, I guess thinking that I'm now more vulnerable. But throughout the night when I was locked up in the cell I was thinking, you know, they might actually be playing a trick on me. These guys are masters at this, they might have reconstructed this thing.
And that's the same position I took when they brought the statement by Siphiwe Nyanda to say he said all these things about what I was doing in the township and I was responsible for the township and stuff like that. My immediate defence was that they forged his handwriting. I guess one read too many stories about the Security Police.
POM It's funny you say that because I interviewed Christo Davidson, he was a policeman in Newcastle and he knew the Nyanda family well and apparently while he was being taken to Johannesburg or wherever he was taken he was taken through Newcastle, so he was interrogated in Newcastle, and Davidson said he just talked, "We didn't have to do anything." His explanation to me was, "Well it seemed to me like he thought Mac had indemnity."
DM Yes, I mean personally for me when we went to trial, because he was charged before us, but also my first knowledge about that, that he's been charged before us, was when I went to the District Surgeon. She showed me the newspaper articles when he was pointing out the houses in Jo'burg and stuff and he didn't want to get involved any more.
POM The District Surgeon didn't?
DM The District Surgeon, not sure whether she can still trust us after that, it was in the papers and stuff like that. I think it didn't make things easy when we were meeting because she was not sure whether those things I mean until even throughout that interrogation I was convinced that they forged his handwriting, I didn't believe that he had written those things. I think it helped because you could easily break down, you can easily give in and say if the people that are supposed to be the leaders, because you have a particular component of information, you don't have the entire information, but people who had the whole information if they can talk, so my position was that they forged his handwriting. I trusted my comrade, I can't mistrust my comrade and trust the Boers to be telling the truth. They can't tell the truth, they don't have the capacity to tell the truth.
POM Mac would tell me that when they arrested him they took him to Johannesburg, they took him all over the place and they pointed out every safe house, "You were there, you were here", they'd march him up the steps, open the door, take him in and say, "You sat here, you sat there."
DM You see I think in terms of the townships I think the biggest advantage is that the townships that I worked in I was the only one who worked in them, so if there was any pointing out of them it would have to be me. I still relate to those people. When I go to Durban I visit, I call her my Granny, the one that used to stay at the border.
POM That kept the house?
DM Yes. I buy her groceries. She was ill, she had flu and she was reluctant to go to the clinic because of the long queue. I sent her R200 to go and see a doctor, she's still my family, we still relate. I can't go to Natal and not sleep 'at home' kind of thing. And she will prepare all these meals. I took my son there also to meet her.
POM So what did his statement say?
DM It was saying any information about Kwamashu and the units there, it was a particular house that was made reference to which is the house that I have spoken about but I hadn't moved into that house. I needed money to actually rent a place but I hadn't moved into it in N Section. So there was reference to that and that people in the township there was reference to a specific guy that I worked with in the township but in terms of the combat name, not the real name because they didn't know his real name, that I had brought to the house to train because he was their core, main person in terms of the unit that was in Kwamashu and stuff like that. And they pressured in terms of as soon as that statement they really pressured to try and get the details and at every point I felt that they should rather do something to me, there's no way I'm talking. If you want people to lose hope and trust in the revolution this was one way of doing it.
My personal view is that they sacrifice, people who were in the country sacrificed more than people who went into exile. Unfortunately we people who went into exile are the heroes but we're not the real heroes, they are the real heroes. Unfortunately you know how these things work, it's all the drama that gets all the attention. But I think those for me were my heroes, the people that were in the country.
POM Just as a matter of interest, did you ever ask Siphiwe whether or not he had made a statement or did you just avoid it?
DM I didn't.
POM Or did you just not want to know?
DM I didn't for two reasons. I think one is when we were for the first time all being tried at the same time, when we were tried at the same time there was lots of tension because remember we were all coming for the first time and he was already charged and once you're charged you have privileges as a prisoner.
POM OK, you're a prisoner in waiting.
DM So they can't interrogate and torture you because you've already appeared in court. We were still going through it, even on the last day before we actually went to court.
POM You were still being tortured?
DM Yes, the day before the court they were still interrogating us. So there was that sense of tension but also after the District Surgeon showed me the newspapers and not wanting to communicate and engage any more which kind of scared me personally because that was my lifeline but also in terms of I don't know what's happening to other people, things might be getting much worse for other people also and not knowing who's where, who's doing what and whether they're still hanging on. So at that level it was that kind of a feeling of a bit of anger, I was angry actually.
POM Now was Mac in court at the same time?
DM We met at the court.
POM He was there at the court?
POM So you were all charged together.
DM Yes. We got bail all at the same time. The second reason is I actually didn't want to know because for me in that period and even after, because remember when we got out of prison, in the country there was violence that was going on in various communities, I still wanted to have a memory of my hero, of this brave Siphiwe Nyanda so I didn't want that tarnished. But I also felt like it will actually be incorrect to believe the Boers than to believe my comrade and the fact that he hasn't raised the issue with me I want to leave it at that. But I guess the tensions continued and I think Mo Shaik was quite helpful in trying to assist with the situation to say we can look at it in another way, the comrade was vulnerable, the comrade was not strong enough and you can't punish him for that.
POM Mac made that point too, that Madiba has written the foreword for this book, quite an extensive one and he makes that point that under torture people break and you can't condemn them for it. Everyone has a different capacity and sometimes it is the weakest person who you'd think might be the first to break is the last to break, and the person who you think would never break is the first.
DM But also my theory in the end was that we never know how strong or how weak we are until that's put to the test and the fact that we discover at that point how strong or how weak, it is a lesson for us at a personal level and my hope is that he himself has reflected on it. I've got a pinch of salt about whether he did it or not. I guess for some reason I still want to keep it that way.
POM That's understandable.
DM Because I want to continue to trust my comrades.
POM You want to have an image in your head.
DM Not only that, I want to continue to trust my comrade and I'm hoping that at a personal level in terms of his own reflections he will feel, if he did it, he will feel the need to come and say I'm sorry, I was weak. And if he doesn't do it the responsibility is not mine in that sense and it can't be something I carry around kind of thing. It's a question of learning and growing at a personal level.
POM So you got bail and after you got bail?
DM We appeared in court and remember there was a subpoena for the Minister of Constitutional Affairs, I think, around the issue of the indemnity and the unbanning of the organisation and our lawyers were insisting that he appear and the case was postponed. I remember the day we went to prison, when you go from court to prison.
POM Did you get bail? Or, sorry, is this the first time?
DM Before bail. Remember we were detained, we are now in prison until we are charged. So when we travelled we travelled with other prisoners to the prison and they have to search you so you have to be naked, you have to take everything off.
POM Naked? In the van?
DM No not in the van, when you get to prison before you could go to your cell everybody has to take off their clothes, strip search, and you have to bend. I said, "No ways, I will take off my clothes but I'm not taking off my underwear." I think we spent about 40 minutes there and I was trying to assert I'm not doing that. In the end, OK, they left us, they didn't strip us completely. I was sitting there looking at old people naked and being checked and checked. It was so humiliating, it was just unbelievable. I said there is no way. For me it felt like I will be giving them the joy that they couldn't get out of torture. I know these ones might not have been, they are not the Security Branch but they are involved in that system, what they can't get on the one hand they will get it in the other. There is no way, no way, so they finally left us and then we reappeared later in court and then we got bail. I remember it was ten to four, I think they close at four. It was about ten to four and they close at four and we were all ready and it looked like the money hasn't come.
POM From the ANC.
DM And we were thinking about another night here. Apparently people in Durban collected money to bail us and by the time the time comes they were already there, collected money. I think my bail was R30,000 or so. Then I came home. We flew to Jo'burg and comrades from Alex picked me up.
POM Did you go back home?
POM Were your family still there?
DM Yes, still same place, but I wasn't excited.
POM You were saying that when you were last in Alex it never had shacks or flats.
DM It never had shacks, they never had flats. That was where we used to play, it was now flats. The comrades took me around and I felt like somebody has taken away my childhood. There were no places where I can go to and recapture the memories. I was really very angry, really angry actually and sad, very sad. It felt strange. But also my family, my sisters when I left they were small and my Mum when she came to our house for the first time she brought the pictures and it wasn't them, they had grown so much and I was saying
POM Who are you?
DM They can't be this big, kind of thing. So much had changed. People that I left that were opposed to politics and activism were very prominent and active. I couldn't relate to a lot of it. Then there was a party that was organised at Valli Moosa's place, I went there and one of the things that I asked was that I want to go to the grave of Vincent Tshabalala. I needed something familiar as a way of being sure that it happened.
POM Kind of a closure.
DM So Paul Mashatile took me to his brother, to Vincent's brother, and we made arrangements for the following day and in the morning I went to the graveyard. I didn't completely make peace. I later saved money and erected a tombstone for him to close that chapter in my life, put it to rest. I hope it has, I visit it every month, sometimes twice a month, take flowers. Now we've started this Education Trust in his memory and writing about his life so that young people in Alex can know about such a sacrifice that other young people made.
POM Do you have some literature about the Trust?
DM We are currently putting it together actually.
POM I'll get it from you at a later stage.
DM I've written something up about it. What I have done since I started working, which was in 1991, I save R100 a month. It was something that I always wanted to do. I save R100 a month.
POM Trevor is very proud of you.
DM So that in the future I could set up something like that. So I got a number of people to be trustees, I'm not a trustee, I just want to do the work around it, but people who had worked with him, who knew him, who it will have some meaning to. So yes.
POM Do you know a man there named Linda Twala?
DM Yes I know him. He's one of our trustees.
POM I'm a very good friend of his.
DM He's agreed to sit on the Trust. One of the conscious decisions that one has made about the Trust is that inasmuch as the Trust, because at some point we want to raise funding and stuff like that, get prominent people, but we want it to be well honouring them, that it should honour people of Alex. So we get people who are community leaders to actually be the trustees and your big names, like in the process we honour them but also rewrite the history of Alex actually so that at least my son would know and feel proud about Alex.
POM Just before I go, and I really hope I meet you again because I will follow up with the people from my university, when you were being tortured would you cry out in pain, or with electric shocks, would you pass out?
DM Yes. With electric shock I would pass out. With electric shock and the tube, they put you in a tube and there were these big guys who would squeeze this on you and close your breath so you would pass out. So they would put you in a tube completely, covered and then they would press your nose so that you don't breathe and then you pass out and you have these heavy guys sitting on you so you can't even move and then you pass out.
POM Would they beat you physically?
DM Yes, yes, they would throw you against the walls. I think the fact they knew that it's big men, at some point they would wish that there would be some few women.
POM Bring quality in torture.
DM In the name of sisterhood.
POM I will get this transcribed and sent to you and particularly on the names you can check the spellings. I will be going back to Massachusetts in a couple of weeks then I will raise this issue in a way with people so that I will make sure they come to Johannesburg to see you when they come out in January. Do you have any brochure that you can give me on the Trust?
DM Not a lot. We just have brochures we're just trying to put something together.