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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
13 Sep 2004: Maharaj, Milou
POM I'm sorry to do this over phone, I would have much preferred to talk to you face to face. I hope I'll get an opportunity to meet with you and sit down with you and just talk to you.
POM What are you studying?
MM I'm studying IT and I'm only really home on the weekends so it's a bit inconvenient. Yes, I'm studying IT.
POM You've wandered between a different number of fields. You were doing forestry one time.
MM And I did Maths and Physics at university, first semester.
POM Oh my!
MM It wasn't really up my alley. I'm very happy with what I'm doing.
POM Because you used to do this, your mother said when you were in Brighton that she bought you a computer.
MM An Atari, yes.
POM So you were into this kind of early on in the game.
POM So we can maybe expect you to become the Bill Gates of South Africa, or is it the Mark Shuttleworth? Who's got the corner on the market here?
MM I imagine Mark Shuttleworth.
POM Anyway Milou, if you're up to it, I'd like to talk a bit about when you were growing up and the different things you went through and because by any standard it was a complicated growing up. My first question would be what are your first memories of family?
MM It started at our house in, I've forgotten what's called, it was a UN house that my Mum owned and it was a large house and it had a lot of trees, a forest, and all I really remember is one day one of our relatives coming and chopping down a tree to make firewood.
POM I see. That's where your conservation instincts kind of kicked in right away.
MM I don't know what instincts I had at the time, I was very young.
POM Do you remember when your Dad went away?
MM No not really. The point that I start remembering clearly from is when we were in our second house in Kabalanga where my Dad would come and visit say once every year or two and he'd bring pool toys because we could swim and I remember him bringing a whole bunch of inflatable things for the pool.
POM Now this was in the house still in Zambia?
MM In Zambia, yes.
POM Were you given any explanation why he was away?
MM Yes, you know my Mum told us for years and years and years that he was having a kidney transplant in Russia and we honestly believed it but when we moved to England my Dad came for a few weeks to settle us down and then he left again and it was after he left that I saw that he was perfectly healthy. I don't know how old I was, I think I was eight or nine, and with the background and all the things my mother had told me, I figured out for myself that he must be working in South Africa and so I knew that and I think I told my sister. So I knew but my Mum continued to say he was in Russia in hospital and I was actually quite disturbed by it.
Then a few months later the ANC was unbanned and we were supposed to come and meet my father in South Africa and we had our bags packed and everything and the night before we were to leave my Mum got a phone call; I was sitting on the stairs listening to her and she was quite taken aback. She was told over the phone that he had been arrested and she was quite taken aback and she got quite emotional and though I didn't know what the phone call was about I got very worried and then my Mum came and told us later that my father had been arrested and that we weren't going back to South Africa just yet. Then she left us with some friends and she went all around Europe campaigning for his release. I remember he had been arrested and we went to the South African Embassy with a bunch of people and there was Father Trevor Huddleston and my sister and I had made placards saying 'Free Our Dad', mine said, and 'We Want Our Dad Back' my sister's one said. We went and rallied, it wasn't such a big group, it was perhaps thirty or forty people outside the South African Embassy.
POM How did all this make you feel?
MM You know when he was gone I was very upset, hurt and angry.
POM That's when he was gone, when he was in Russia?
MM Yes, when he was in South Africa when he was supposedly in Russia.
POM Just going back, do you remember your Mum's accident?
MM Yes I remember that. My sister had told her that she shouldn't go out because my sister had a bad feeling and she went out and we were told the next day that she had had a car accident and some of our relatives, my father's relatives –
POM That would be your Aunt Shanthee.
MM They came to look after us and one of the first things they did, actually that day, they took us to go see the car wreck which was very traumatising.
POM They took you to see it?
MM It was all crushed up. It was like a metre and a bit from front to back. Then they took us to the hospital to see my mother who was in a terrible state and I went and climbed under one of the beds and cried.
POM Oh dear. You must have thought she was going to die.
POM You Dad had gone and now your Mum's gone.
MM We were left alone for almost a year, being looked after by these relatives and all different kinds of cadres who would come and go, stay around for a week or two and then leave.
POM That must have been a very difficult year.
MM Mm it was, it was very upsetting.
POM Now were you in school in - ?
MM Yes I was in one of the primary schools. It was a government school. My parent's didn't want to send me to the International School because people would sort of recognise who I am. One of the things I do recall is that when I was about four or five my teacher was asking everyone what their parents did and when she got to me I said my Dad's a freedom fighter. She asked what does that mean and I said, I was four or five, I said that means he has lots of guns.
POM Well he was importing lots of guns anyway.
MM Quite a few of them had passed through our house. Apparently the lady called my mother afterwards and said that if my mother wants to run the class she should. She got very upset, the teacher.
POM The teacher got very upset? So you had a year after your Mum had her accident when she was in Moscow and then she was in Harare and that was the year that you and your sister really spent most of your time on your own?
MM Yes, that's true.
POM Would you have been in – you were still in the UN house?
MM Oh no, no, we had moved out of the UN house when I was very young and we had moved to a house in Kabalanga and that's where we stayed.
POM Were there two houses, the British Council house. She worked first for the British High Commission and then she moved on to work for the UN.
MM Yes. I remember two houses, the one was quite large and the other one was also quite large. I think we moved when I was about three or four.
POM OK, that would be the UN – that would be from the High Commission to the UN house.
MM Oh OK, yes.
POM So after you find out that your Dad has been arrested does your mother now begin to put the pieces together for you as to what he has been doing?
MM Yes I think she must have explained to us at that time that he had really been in South Africa. I remember she said, I remember very well that she said he was working underground, I didn't quite know what that meant, and that the ANC had been unbanned and that he had left the country illegally and returned legally and that he had been arrested.
POM Now when he turned up in England, in London in 1989, July of 1989, that would have been the first time you had seen him for a couple of years?
MM Yes. In the early days he used to visit say once every year or two but you're right, when he came to England he hadn't been there for about four or five years perhaps.
POM What were your feelings on seeing him?
MM I was very happy to see him, I idolised him. I loved him very much and I was just very happy to spend some time with him.
POM And then he turned around and he disappears again.
MM Well it was the price you had to pay, we knew that at the time.
POM Did he take you back to – when he went on one of his trips – in London he made a couple of trips back to Lusaka, did he take you and Joey back on a trip? Your Mum says that he took you back?
MM I don't recall that.
POM You don't recall that. OK. Because he doesn't have a memory of it either so maybe your Mum just said, "Good, they're off my hands for about six weeks."
MM I remember that when we moved to South Africa in 1990 I remember my Mum went to England for six weeks to clean up the pieces.
POM That's right. You made some remark once when he went away –
MM It's not when he comes back, it's whether he comes back.
POM When did you say that?
MM When we were in England, nine months to a year before he was arrested. Perhaps it was in the early days that we were in London. I spent a lot of time alone. My Mum was working at the university and she got a school, Brighton Primary, that said they would take the two kids so she moved house right round the corner and they only accepted my sister and told me that I must go to a school that was further away. So my Mum started a huge legal battle with the Council to get me put into the school and that lasted six months. During that six months I was alone at home. She would be there but she would be working. I remember she told me that the computer was her AK47 and her words were her bullets. So she became the first person to single-handedly defeat the Council and they took me to that school. But during the six months before that I had really just been at home living in my imagination and fantasy, watching TV a bit. I almost fell out of a window backwards thinking how my Dad was being tortured.
POM Wow! Were you lonely during that period?
MM It was terrible.
POM This is a new country.
MM I didn't know anybody, I was very isolated, didn't see anybody, just lived in my own fantasy. It was all right at the time but I was very disturbed. I mean I lived on a bunk bed and my sister often slept with my mother. I never demanded attention so I didn't get much attention. One of the things I used to do that I recall is that from the top of the bunk bed, and I'm not exactly sure why, I just think it was because I was very disturbed, I used to urinate on the wall.
POM Yes. You know my Dad died when I was five, rather suddenly. He was only in his mid forties and I always had this fear that my mother, I'd had it all from my childhood, that my mother was possibly going to die and we'd all be left alone. Those feelings of abandonment start kicking in pretty early.
Now when you came back to South Africa did you find it hard to adjust and settle down here?
MM No I felt at home immediately. At first there was some resentment that he hadn't been there and then it was really just getting used to him. I had just been with my sister, it took a few years, so we settled down with him. I think I became comfortable with him when my Mum had left and we were spending a lot of time together.
POM Then you had to move house rather quickly on a couple of occasions as well.
MM From Yeoville to Observatory. It was in Observatory, I was playing with a friend in the house across the road and I was looking over the wall because we'd often play near the wall, it was elevated so we could hear it all, and I noticed how every day when my Dad came back from wherever he was, I can't remember, but every day he came back he was followed by the same car. He would go into the driveway and through the gate and they would park just a bit back so he couldn't see them and as soon as he was in they'd drive away. So I told this to him and that's when he got bodyguards which was also quite something. I actually became a little scared, but I was scared when I knew there was someone following him.
POM And then you had to leave the house in Yeoville rather suddenly.
MM This was in Observatory that I noticed that.
POM Then you had to go to Observatory and you had this thing happening. So there was always this kind of fear of something might happen.
MM I remember that when we were in Yeoville someone, we don't know who, used to throw bricks over the wall and I remember my Mum saying that she would often get threatening calls at midnight. I do remember that.
POM So if you compare your Dad and your Mum, how are they similar and how are they different?
MM Well my Dad is more clearheaded and decisive, not to say the opposite about my Mum, but my Mum is more loving and affectionate.
POM Your Dad has a hard time showing his feelings is what you're saying. Right? I said your Dad has a hard time showing his feelings. He's a man out of that generation.
MM But he's also learnt quite a lot recently, he's become quite emotional. One of the things I've only recognised lately is that they've both got this kind of, I don't know, like a tropical attitude, not attitude, just way of being. They're very – I don't know what the word is, but I look at photos of them and they're there somewhere in southern Africa, tanning in their costumes, very easy come, easy go in that sense. I don't know.
POM Now before your breakdown happened were you aware of what was going on about the Bulelani Ngcuka spy scandal?
MM Yes I was aware of it all before and during the time. I thought I was affecting it somehow. I thought I was affecting everything somehow. Yes, I was aware that it was going on and at first I was in Plettenberg Bay and people said, and I agreed, that it was good that I had some space away from those issues. Then I was in hospital and it was televised. So I knew it was going on. I was very uninvolved. I do recall, I think, my Mum, I do recall that my Mum would visit me every day when I was a Jo'burg Gen to bring me supper and that the maid had left, my sister was writing exams and having a nervous breakdown and my Dad was involved in the whole court case and she still made time to come and see me every day.
POM Your Mom's a very loving person. So now, are you comfortable now where you are and the way things are going and how your life is beginning to come together in bits and pieces?
MM Yes, everything is coming together and everything is going swell. I used to have a lot of issues about the past but in the last two years I've thought about them in weird and wonderful ways, not as plainly, and sort of have changed my attitudes about a lot of things and I don't really feel so hurt about the past. I plan for the future now and take it one day at a time and the past doesn't really affect me.
POM You can do nothing to change it.
MM Yes and there are no feelings of resentment or bitterness towards anyone really from the past, and I try not to have those feelings about anybody now. It's sort of like my whole life – I don't know, the journal got blotted and then cleared and I feel like a new person.
POM That's wonderful. Well I will leave it there. I was just going to ask you, I've forgotten the question. What do you think of your Dad?
MM Oh I admire him a lot, I've always admired him and I love him a lot. I think he's a courageous and generous person. Among other things I also think he's brave and a lot of other aspects. In fact he's always been my idol and my hero. Since I was very young, not even knowing him, I always saw him as a role model and also he was old and I had just finished school and I didn't want to go to university anywhere but here in Jo'burg so that I could spend time with him. I feel very happy now, I feel we've spent a lot of quality time over the year and I don't have any kind of fears of losing him. Obviously it would be upsetting but I don't have any kind of – I feel we've spent a lot of valuable time together.
POM Like he has done – he did things for his country that nobody else would do. The people who paid an awful price for it were you and Joey.
MM Added to that price we were willing to pay, always. We were very aware of who we were and where we stood even when we thought our father was away having a kidney transplant.
POM Some kidney, right? If he ever comes home and says, "Listen, the doctor has just diagnosed that I've a kidney ailment", I think you know what you can go and tell him. "We've heard that one before."
Well, listen, it's lovely talking to you and if anything else pops into my mind I might call you back if that's OK. So just in IT, are you specialising in - ?
MM I'm doing my Bachelor's in IT Engineering, to be a system analyst, and then I intend to do my Honours and an MBA.
POM Good for you.
MM And in between to get some work experience. Then if all goes well I'm going to study finance as well, put them all together and create the perfect job.
POM Lovely talking to you Milou and I will see you I hope and have dinner with you some evening.
MM That would be wonderful.
POM Thank you. Bye, bye now.