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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
28 Nov 2003: Naidoo, Nandha (Steve)
POM Mr Naidoo, you were going to say something first?
NN What I was going to say is that my contact with Mac is just the early years. What I am saying is that my contact with Mac was only in that early period and then in London and then for a very brief period when we were in detention and then afterwards when he was released again, very shortly then. So there might be information I have
POM In that period.
NN Yes, in that critical period when he was involved I have no idea at all, you know, the central period of his involvement.
POM Yes. I only want to talk to you about the early years. My first question is when did you first meet him?
NN That was when I went to university.
POM That would be 1953. Can you remember the circumstances under which you met him?
NN Oh everywhere, on the same campus. We had the whole day doing nothing. The classes were in the evening.
POM You had the whole day doing nothing?
POM Because you wouldn't go to lectures?
NN There were no lectures for us during the day because we were black so the provision was made for us to attend classes in the afternoon.
POM At four o'clock when the teachers came in?
NN Four o'clock they came in. Most of the mornings, the days, were spent arguing about anything and everything, talking politics, arguing about philosophy, socialism, communism.
POM Now were there a group of you? Can you remember who else was in that?
NN Not immediately. It just depended who happened to be there at the time. There was no fixed arrangement where you'd have a group gathering formally. If you happened to be sitting down and having tea a subject would emerge and the discussion will go on. People like Raymond Kunene, for instance, was there. I think he's had a stroke.
POM There was someone called Edward? Edward Nicholls?
NN Edward Nicholls I've lost contact with.
POM Who was he?
NN He was a student there as well. Elias Motolla. I can't remember the names of the others.
POM So you would take the classes at Sastri College after four o'clock?
NN After four o'clock.
POM OK. So this is where Phyllis Naidoo comes in?
NN That's right. That's where we would meet. But for the rest of the day, nine o'clock onwards, we had the day to ourselves. It was the best part of our education because that's when we sat and talked. We touched nearly every subject. I can't remember now what we said and how far we've shifted from what we said there. Politics and such things were at the centre of it. They wouldn't allow us to attend their libraries. We had a library that was filled with old, out of date books.
POM So a lot of the time would be spent in talking about the restrictions that had been placed on you by the university, by the government, by apartheid and what it was doing?
NN Oh yes, that and, of course, the injustice of it all. There was a close bonding there with the Africans as well mainly because they were there, we were all on the same campus. So this was a constant issue. I think we even brought out a paper once.
POM A student one?
NN Two issues of it, or one issue. A one issue paper. But that's where our politics started but political thought, I think, was there all the time.
POM How do you recall Mac's participation in those kind of discussions, in the classroom?
NN We didn't do the same course. He did a different course. I studied sociology and he did psychology and something else. I can't even remember what other subjects he took. My specialisation was sociology, history.
I was taught by the late Professor Leo Cooper. He had the Foundation on the Study of Genocide named after him. He was the one who taught me. So in fact sociology and politics is not far removed, they're pretty close.
POM The lecturers you had, did any of them, or just you as a group, were there ones who stood out as kind of making an impression that you would remember afterwards, who influenced your thinking?
NN Let's see. No, not particularly. Leo Cooper was a liberal, anti-communist. Kurt Danziger I suspect might have been a communist, I don't know. I wasn't taught by Kurt Danziger, I only did one piece of work for him, just one. He asked me to do an analytical analysis of the survey he had carried out amongst students. That is the perceptions of whites, blacks and Indians to the society we were living in. The only thing I remember of that survey is that the whites wrote about South Africa as though there were no black people there and all that were written by black people addressed the issues of discrimination. There was this sharp difference. That stuck in my mind and this was a series of essays written by students on how they perceived South Africa's image. That was the only piece of work I did for Dr Kurt Danziger and I can't even remember the conclusions I came to, but I can remember the approach of these various groups.
POM Now was Dr Palmer the Registrar then?
NN No, she pre-dates she wasn't present there at that time. I didn't see much of her.
POM But she was there?
NN No, there were just two women, white women, running the office.
POM Are you sure she wasn't one of them?
NN No, no, she wasn't one of them. But she started the set-up. I don't know if you've heard anything about her?
POM I read about her in Ismail Meer's book.
NN There was an exchange of letters between Dr Palmer and an African child whom she had adopted and paid her fees and it was this child's letters that were most telling in the relationship between Dr Palmer and this child. The research was done by a sociologist I think, a social anthropologist in England recently, and it was quite revealing actually. If you're interested it's worth picking up.
POM How would one start tracing that?
NN I'll have to talk to my wife, because that's quite telling because she used words like, "I'm not an animal, I am a child, I am a human being and I should be treated and respected as a human being. I am not something to be played with and experimented with." And this was being addressed to Dr Palmer and it was her response which is quite telling, of the particular mindset of a liberal who had actually been instrumental in setting up that non-white section, not fighting apartheid.
POM Had been instrumental in setting up the non-European section?
NN It was a compromise but if you want to see the power relations and dynamics those letters of that young African woman to Dr Palmer are quite significant I think. That was quite telling. I will have to ask my wife. I know it's been done in the last three or four years.
POM Now Mac mentions now you two became friends or were you acquaintances?
NN Oh we were friends.
POM Did you hang out together?
NN Oh yes.
POM Did you drink together?
NN Didn't have much money for drink. No I can't remember us ever getting drunk together. I got drunk with others but not with Mac.
POM Was it that Mac didn't get drunk? He makes the big point that in his first year he did a lot of gambling.
NN He might have done it but not with me.
POM Not with you. OK.
NN Not with me. He was actually a bit wild but his wildness is not an aspect I shared with him. The closeness was that we'd go out and visit his sister and his sister had a little child and he'd get down on the floor.
POM This is Shanthee is it?
NN Yes. He'd play with her daughter. Very fond of children.
POM He always was. That comes across from everyone I speak to.
NN Extremely fond of children and terribly intense, always intense. I know people take that for arrogance. It's not arrogance, he's a terribly, terribly intense person. When he argues his face - it's as though he's going to get his hands around your neck! He doesn't do that but he is extremely intelligent and passionate in what he believes in.
POM So what bonded you?
NN We were learning from each other. Our temperaments are different, our passions are the same. That makes it difficult. He won't smile when he's talking and he won't crack corny jokes or anything like that, whereas I can switch from one to the other and have a laugh and tease, allow myself to be teased and made a fool of sometimes. But he's serious. He's been like that all his life. He has always been, intense, serious. He wouldn't take fools easily and always 'I'm right until I'm proved wrong'. And you never prove him wrong anyway. So it's often difficult to argue an issue but then if you persist you do get gems coming across. He was very close to my Dad as well.
POM Now your Dad was?
NN He was a farmer. It was just a personal relationship.
POM So would he go out and visit?
NN Oh yes.
POM The farm was?
NN That was in Stanger. He'd go and talk to him and sit with him.
POM Is your Dad still alive?
NN No he died. They would talk and get along marvellously which was a bond between us.
POM Would you go out often and visit Stanger?
NN Not often but whenever he went I remember when my mother died he made a special journey to see her. It was not something that any of my other friends had done. That was the kind of relationship. But he is an extremely intense person, a person of extremely deep convictions and we shared the same convictions except that in detail we'd disagree.
POM If you had to draw up a little kind of portrait of what life for non-white students was like on campus, was it vigorous, was it healthy or was it kind of everyone was coming and going?
NN We had a vigorous - our internal - those of us who were involved in our studies, this was a part of our education. We were talking about every subject really.
POM How many students altogether were there?
NN I don't know the overall number. I used to go out with Edward Nicholls, a practising Catholic.
POM Is he still alive do you know?
NN I don't know, I lost contact with him. A very good man. His entire life was informed by Catholicism. It made me feel quite sympathetic because he would come in and see a chap who was cold and say, "Oh I've got to get you a hat and coat." And he'll come with a coat. And then I said, "That's a new coat." And he said, "Well if I'm going to give him something I'll have to give him the best from my wardrobe." And then he'd get this chap and say, "Now you need a hat." And he goes and gets a hat and he gives it to him. It would always have to be the best that he wanted himself. So a gift wasn't a gift unless there was a feeling that it was the best he could offer. Now that was quite significant because he was giving it to the African labourer outside and that flowed from his Catholic beliefs.
POM Now Phyllis referred to the hut.
NN That was a Nissan hut, that's where we had our lessons. There was a Nissan hut.
POM Oh, that's where you had your classes?
NN Lessons, yes, lectures. Sometimes they used classrooms as well. It wasn't ideal. It was fobbing us off with the least, but it gave us time to talk and analyse South Africa and, mind you, he was studying psychology and other subjects and I was studying sociology so there was cross-cutting and we were talking about what a future society should look like, what a decent society should look like.
POM Now he was attracted to Marxism very early on.
NN Well we talked about Marxism and we talked about communism. We didn't know much about these things really in the sense of having studied them. You must remember that academic studies tend to obfuscate and make complicated what is simple. It took me ages actually to understand the sociology I was studying. You knew the word, you didn't actually know what it meant. It took a long time. It was the same with communism and capitalism. What we did know is that we were being screwed and that is the only Karl Marx -
POM Well did the fact that Indians and coloureds couldn't become members of the ANC ?
NN Oh sympathetic.
POM Yes sympathetic to it but couldn't become members. Your political options were the NIC or something more radical and if you were more radical it would be the Communist Party. Was there any question of certain avenues for a more radical person? The NIC was conservative?
NN We didn't look at it like that. No-one came to the campus canvassing for members of those things.. I wouldn't have known where to go and join the Communist Party or even the ANC for that matter. In fact these organisations as organisations existed as an idea, a concept. Nobody came and recruited people to the ANC and I myself, I don't think I formally joined any organisation really. I'm prepared to serve anyone on a freelance basis if I agree with them and I want to part company when I disagree, because there are issues on which I there are certain things I just won't do. I won't take an order without somebody showing it to me. There was this but frankly I don't know if Mac belonged to any of these organisations but no-one came onto the campus. If you asked me if the Africans are entitled to the right to vote, yes, it shouldn't be a qualified vote, it should be an unqualified vote. It didn't make any difference to me. Should they go to university? Yes. They should have the same provision as everybody else. I wanted the same provision as well. We were passionate about it. We were just passionately anti-racialist and we wanted economic social justice. If you want to call it communism, well fine, call it communism. For me it was just common sense and I think the others believed the same thing. But when it came to details, when you talk about literature or this, that and the other, a person would agree or disagree and we would have ferocious arguments on interpretation or whatever, but not malicious.
POM That's being students. That's what students are there to do.
NN Yes, and then you go and have coffee together and go and have a meal together.
POM You would have known Tim. Was Tim part of your group too?
NN She would be there but I don't remember her actually arguing with us. She was probably working during the day and would turn up in the afternoon.
POM She was nursing, yes.
NN The rest of us we had the whole I didn't do any work during the day, sitting round and arguing and talking.
POM And classes would go from four o'clock till?
NN About eight o'clock.
POM Would it be five days a week?
NN Five days. Professor Leo Cooper used to organise special sessions for us.
POM Mac mentioned two incidents. He mentions one where, and he couldn't tell me who the person was, where there was a visitor from abroad who was going to give a lecture and you were all ordered to attend and you didn't.
NN Yes, I remember that.
POM He demanded that you write a letter of apology to the person and you were under threat of expulsion.
NN I'm not so sure. There was one incident where there were two American sociologists. One or two American sociologists who came and we wanted to boycott that. I think we boycotted it and then the principal, a Dr Malherbe, said that we were all being rude and I wanted to say, yes, we wanted to be rude to express our displeasure at coming together. And my colleagues actually stopped me.
POM Was there a threat of expulsion?
NN I can't remember that.
POM There was another incident that followed a wild party where they spiked the drink of, I think his name was Singh, D K Singh who was the head of the student body.
NN I wasn't involved in that. I wouldn't have been in anything like that. I was a bit of a coward.
POM So if you were to look back on your student days what would you remember from them?
NN Just the arguments and the debates and the discussions.
POM And if you had to remember Mac from that period?
NN It was formative in the direction we were going to take, or he was going to take more than me.
POM What direction was he leaning to?
NN Commitment, a personal commitment.
POM Well he talks about it that his disagreement with the ANC was that it was still committed to non-violence and he wanted the overthrow of the apartheid regime by revolution.
NN I wouldn't know anything about that. That must have happened later. I wouldn't know. My own feeling on the subject was not at that time, I didn't have any views on that at that time actually. Later I was to think that they had actually handled what they were doing extremely well, you know the non-violence. Actually that was an educational process itself. It is only when non-violence failed that they chose the armed struggle and even on that I'm not so sure whether they agreed or disagreed but that is the course that they chose. There was no communication with the government at all in terms that one can understand.
POM Now when he finished his degree he stayed on and tried to do law. He did one year of law.
POM There were five students he had to get for them to open the law degree to non-whites and he got five students and there were five subjects and he was the only one who passed the five subjects and they closed it down. Did you stay on?
NN No, I wasn't in that lot. I then did an honours degree in sociology, I remained interested in sociology because Professor Leo Cooper gave us the flavour for the university.
POM So Leo Cooper made an impression on you?
NN As a teacher. My understanding of issues was enhanced in a process I went through with him. I don't know that we would have agreed politically.
POM But did he excite your mind?
NN Oh yes. He opened doors which I wouldn't have looked at. My understanding of what's happening is mostly due to what I learnt from him. I'm basically a sociologist looking at it completely differently. I look at things as a sociologist and as a lawyer rather than as a politician and I'm entertained by looking at the games they play. I'm not a politician by inclination. I'm interested in justice as a human being and if I have to pitch in I'll pitch in but I want freedom to move out whenever I feel like it. Mac, on the other hand, went in with both feet, both hands and everything.
POM He just jumped in, jumped over the cliff, whatever.
NN He came one day and he said, "I'm giving up my law studies and I'm going into politics, period." And that was it, he never shifted.
POM So when he made a decision that was that?
NN That's that.
POM The question of reversing the decision would never enter the question?
POM I don't want to put words in your mouth, but I've been trying to trace what he has given me and what other people have given me to see are there patterns of behaviour that have existed since he was a young person and repeated throughout his life in various stages. Was he one, even though he might have thought about something, to come to a decision quite abruptly, like he just comes along and informs you?
NN No, I don't think it was abrupt. I don't think it was abrupt. The intensity with which one would pursue what one passionately feels is different in each of us and the way we go about it is different. In this case he chose a particular path but the driving force is always there, this intense dislike of discrimination and the need for social justice. And he is prepared to pay the price for it. Me? Not so much.
POM Now he got involved with New Age, got very involved with that. He was in Durban until 1957. Were you still in Durban or at school or had you finished your honours degree?
NN When I finished my honours degree I went to London, just to think basically. Mac had left a little while earlier so I joined him in London. We lived at Notting Hill Gate in a bed-sit which is a room as large as this with six beds and a toilet. He was working at Lyons tea house I think.
POM Did you meet by pre-arrangement?
NN We met by pre-arrangement, yes. We ended up at the London School of Economics. Quite strangely we were walking past there, so we were curious and we went into the reception and then picked up two application forms and filled them in. We didn't plan to go in there, we just happened to be walking past. I went on to complete the degree, not marvellously, but finished it and he gave it up half way and went into politics.
POM Were you doing law then?
NN That's when I did law.
POM Oh OK. Then Tim came to London?
NN Yes she did.
POM Because he got married in London. Did you attend the marriage?
NN I can't remember actually. He probably went to the Magistrate's Court to get married. He probably went to the Registry Office. I can't remember if I went there or not. I knew they were married.
POM So he quits and he goes off to the GDR to do training and you're still in London.
NN At that point I want to fade out.
POM You want to fade?
NN Yes. I took my own course at that point. He went one way and I went the other.
POM OK but you ended up in China.
NN I don't want to talk about that. I was on ANC business but that remains confidential.
POM OK. So the next time you meet is when he's back in Johannesburg and he is working underground for the SACP and he's living in Pierce Street in Doornfontein. This is the story he tells that you were back in the country and then Wilton Mkwayi comes to him and, I think, tells him that you're back in the country. But you turn up with Wilton one evening and he talks about the episode about the gun.
NN I didn't handle any guns.
POM You didn't handle any guns.
NN I was there to meet a chap who was a technician.
POM Lionel Gay?
NN Yes. It was in communications actually. I got to meet him actually. I met him, I think I met Lionel Gay. Nothing happened after because I got locked up.
POM OK. So your first contact with Mac when he comes back to the country is?
NN The time that I met him in Doornfontein. It was mainly to go underground.
POM To go underground?
NN Yes, but I never got underground.
POM Oh you never did. You were?
NN I wasn't involved at all after that.
POM Then you were picked up?
NN Yes, and then that was the end of it.
POM And you were detained in Marshall Square?
NN Marshall Square, Pretoria Central.
POM Can you remember the date you were picked up? It's important for a reason.
NN I can't remember the date.
POM Is there a way of finding that out that I could establish myself?
NN I can't remember that date. I spent eight months.
POM Eight months in Marshall Square?
NN Solitary confinement.
POM Solitary confinement. Now when you were in solitary confinement, did that mean that you were in a cell of your own and there was a cell next to you?
POM Could you communicate with the person? By the taps? So that's the way you communicated with them?
NN It was a joke actually. None of them could understand Morse.
NN A was that. B, C. (A = one tap, B = 2 taps, C = 3 taps.) Now you try to count all of those.
POM Well if you are there all day! It's a good way of passing your sentence.
NN I can't actually remember the date. I know it was a Friday, I was living with a Catholic family and they cooked fish on Friday. It was a Friday and I know it was cold, very cold, so that would have been in the winter, South African winter.
POM It was shortly after he was arrested.
NN Yes, about two or three months after.
POM Did you meet him in Durban when he came through with Tim just before he was arrested?
POM Was this just a social occasion?
NN What was it? I needed to make contact with the organisation and it was arranging that contact that I met him but I never made that contact. I met him, but the contact that we were trying to arrange didn't happen because in the meantime he got arrested.
POM Then about a month later?
NN I was taken. So it would have been in the South African winter.
POM And you made contact through? How did he get to know you were there?
POM In Marshall Square.
NN My journey was from Durban to Kloof, I spent the weekend there, Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday night.
POM In Kloof?
NN Kloof, Natal. It was freezing, damn cold. That would have been about June, July. I was taken to Marshall Square, to Greys on the Monday. About four or five days afterwards, there was a chap in the cell next to me actually, it was bloody strange, knocking on the wall and then every time you went for exercise you'd look through and he introduced himself, so somehow or the other we discovered where each person was. The humour was, I went to talk to him and he put his deaf ear to the bloody ear hole.
POM Another person he mentions is Doha, Amien Cajee.
NN I don't know him at all.
POM So for the eight months, they held you for eight months, were you then subject during that period to interrogation and torture?
NN Oh yes.
POM Did you have Swanepoel too?
NN Oh I had Swanepoel but it was harsh. I wouldn't regard myself as having been tortured, you can stand for 48 hours, torture. Going without sleep and without food.
POM But they would leave you without sleep for?
NN You'd stand there for 48 hours. You know I had no sleep from Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday night, Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night, and in the early hours of Wednesday morning I slept in the cell. But I wasn't physically hurt.
POM One of the things they, ('they', who are they?) have discovered is that sleep deprivation is one of the most effective ways of extracting information.
NN Oh I discovered that too. I discovered that too. It's like alcohol. You feel that you're quite knowledgeable and you can stand on your feet when you're crumbling at the knees. It's like that, there's a feeling of lucidity about you. Then I reminded myself, this can't be true. There is a bit of rationality and I said, well maybe it's time to shut up. It's not time to argue and negotiate with this chap. I'm not in a position to read you or think if I'm wrong, I stand wrong, but I'm not going to be corrected here. No. I'm prepared to talk to him when I'm a free person otherwise I'm not.
POM And at the end of eight months?
NN I was charged and acquitted.
NN I was charged with receiving military training and I was acquitted.
POM That was it? A single charge of having gone through military training?
NN Yes, and I was acquitted. I have no regrets at all. I did this for myself. I had to make a stand on apartheid and I made a stand on apartheid and that was enough.
POM And then you left did you leave the country at that point?
NN They were going to place me under this banning order, house arrest. I had no job, no home, no money, and this would have left me with no prospects of anything so I packed up and left, literally walked over the border. Two of us. The other bloke was a chap by the name of M P Naicker.
POM He was the manager of New Age in Durban, right? And he was in the treason trial? Yes.
NN Yes, jumped over two fences and we were on the other side. We were within rifle range, they had telescopic sights, they could have taken us. It was three in the morning, they were all fast asleep. You see if you're leaving any place, leave at three in the morning, everybody's fast asleep.
POM So you made your way to London and began a new life. Now did you join any organisations? That was it? You went about your life. Did Mac when he came through London ever just socially did you keep in touch at all?
NN We did but socially. I wasn't involved. There are critical points at which you make decisions and I made the decision that now I was just trying to settle down and I wasn't going to put my capacity to earn my living on a political movement. I don't know where it is going to take me. There was this whole argument between the Soviets and the Chinese and it was becoming too difficult to cope with actually and we were here in London and we were fighting the struggle in South Africa, these organisations all have a momentum and demands of their own. I couldn't pay the price they would have wanted from me. I didn't think that I had much to offer anyway. I was 35 at the time. If I was 21, 22 I might have made a different decision.
POM Life in London while you were there, the first time, when you were students together and you lived together and shared that flat in Notting Hill. There were just the two of you or were there others?
NN Oh there were others, Kader Asmal was there.
POM Was Kader as argumentative then as he is now? How did he and Mac ever get on?
NN I don't have many complimentary things to say unfortunately. We were at school together and that's where we started our arguments. He used to walk around with the Union Jack. I hadn't read Churchill but I knew that Churchill had once said to the British parliament that he hadn't been made First Minister of the Crown to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire, and that was Kader Asmal at high school.
NN That was Kader Asmal's winning argument for the British Empire. He said they built railways in India, hooray. I said, "Yes, hooray, to screw the Indians and use the railways to do it", and that would go on.
POM So you were working at Lyons?
NN I refused to work there. No I didn't work at Lyons. Mac did. Mac worked at Lyons and Tony Seedat worked at Lyons.
POM Is Tony Seedat still alive?
NN I think he is. I don't know, I've lost contact with him. So they started a little socialist enterprise in the flat. Mac would work and bring his money and Tony would work at Lyons and bring his money and Hassim Seedat who stayed at home would look after the money.
POM So you kind of pooled your money?
NN Yes. And then of course all the flaws of the socialist economy started happening. Tony never had enough money when he went out so he decided to do a few extra hours of work and keep the extra hours. And one day money fell out of his pocket and he had to explain where he got that money from to Hassim Seedat, his cousin. It was becoming a bit of a joke after a while where these guys were working, Hassim was staying at home, and they would bring all the money and give it to him to subsidize his art
POM Was it a lively time? Did you guys go out together or did you all make your own circle of friends?
NN Not much, we did our own things. It was cramped. I can't remember the details of this. We didn't stay there for long. We moved to Park afterwards and we had quite a nice flat there, lots of space and things like that.
POM That's near where Tottenham Spurs have their is that right?
NN That's right. We had students coming in and going out.
POM But when you came from Durban, from a city where all you knew in your life was segregation and injustice and then you hit London, was this not an enormous contrast?
NN It was. The most difficult thing was, I used to get up at sunrise and here the sun rose at eleven o'clock in the morning. That's if you saw it. It's just adjustment to light, terrible. The gloom. The effect of not having enough sunlight. It was really depressing. You didn't realise, it didn't affect our work. The sleep we're taught, everything else we're taught.
POM How about the range of like your freedom to go where you want, your freedom to do what you want, just do what you wanted to do?
NN Yes we had that but there was also intense loneliness. You're alone most of the time. Little money, a strange place. But then our involvement was in street politics all the time. We were demonstrating, if it wasn't one demonstration it was something else, and I spent an enormous amount of that three years in the streets demonstrating. Anti-apartheid movement, for colonial freedom, we were demonstrating outside South Africa House, we were travelling around London addressing small groups. I'm talking before Oliver Tambo came here. There was an enormous amount of activity that went on and discussions on the direction that the South African struggle should take, whether they should concentrate on anti-apartheid, they should concentrate on Dr Verwoerd as a name, the direction and the strategy the campaign should follow.
I was a member of the Anti-apartheid movement. And we had study groups and things like that, but I wasn't in the ANC or anything. Yes, I did work for them but I didn't attend any of their inner core meetings.
POM In the flat was there a sharing of tasks? How did you guys work out your domestic arrangements?
NN Oh. That was a permanent problem. There were two kinds of people, one goes clean, dirty, clean and the other goes dirty, clean, dirty. So the spoons ended up in the sink and one chap even hid them because he said one spoon would be enough, we wouldn't have to wash the rest. And they never found those spoons. Some archaeologist will find them one day when they demolish that building. Or they'd eat all the food and nobody would replace it. That's how the problem with Mac was. He came home at midday and he hoped there was some bread there, there wasn't. Now he had paid for his food like the rest of us but the one chap who was staying was being subsidised, ate all the bread and didn't think that maybe he should go and buy some and leave some for someone who's coming later.
POM So there was quite a bit of domestic what-you-call-it.
NN Yes, quite a lot of it actually but we couldn't afford to break up. But all the personal characteristics of people there came to the surface. I can guarantee that the four of us living there wouldn't have made socialism work. It wouldn't have worked and we wouldn't have made it work either. The only enterprise that worked there was probably capitalist self-help. We had to change this structure because this business of pooling in money, firstly people were consuming different things in different quantities and the contributions going into the pool were also different. The chaps who were putting in most were getting less and it was working the other way round as well. So in the end what we did was we said, look, every week we'll take turns in going and doing the shopping. So two of us would do shopping. We'd come back and just divide the bill by four and after that you can consume as much you want but then that produced the problem of chaps finishing all the bread and not buying a loaf. We still had problems but it was manageable. We had a very favourable landlady who didn't charge us rent or demand it on time so we spent months without paying rent. She was a Labour MP. That helped quite a lot actually.
POM Now when you were finished all your studies did you come back ever to live in South Africa or to practise law in South Africa?
NN I came back in 1960. Then I got arrested and then I left.
POM Then you left but after leaving you never came back to practise again?
NN I didn't get back to practise, I didn't get back into politics. It didn't mean that I didn't care, it's just that my priorities shifted. I had a family to take care of and I wanted a family and South African politics is full time. There's no point in giving it half. If I had to be in politics I had to become celibate and totally committed, that is being prepared to die and I wasn't prepared to go that far at that point. I'd had enough basically and there are so many compromises you make as well. What you're doing to serve your cause is not always nice and I don't think I was prepared to go that far.
POM Oh yes, there's just one thing I want to check on. I said I'd check when he says something and I'd check on its veracity or the other person's memory of it. He said that when he said, "Is that you, Steve?" You shouted, "Yes", or something and he said, "Did they show you any photographs?" or words to that effect, and you said, "Yes." He said, "Did you identify me? Did they show you my photograph?"
NN I said to him? Whose photograph would it have been? This photograph you're referring to, Mac or me?
POM You were saying whose photograph would it have been?
NN Yes. They didn't show me any photographs. They didn't show my any photographs at all.
POM I'm nearly done. Looking back at the period you knew him, mostly college days and your days in London together, if I had to ask you who is Mac? What would you say? Taking your law, your sociology, your knowledge of all -
NN The man you see today is the same guy I saw thirty years ago. He's just as stubborn and as unyielding. My own feeling is that he's not a guy well I said this to somebody else, he's not a guy who gives that period of his life for a couple of quid which you could have made anyway. All I'm saying is the man you are seeing there is the man I knew. He's being absolutely, utterly consistent in his convictions. Stubborn, unyielding and bloody minded.
POM What about his is he somebody to express his feelings? Does he keep them to himself? If he was hurt or whatever is he more likely just to say, I'm fine.
NN He doesn't bear grudges. He's unusual. He doesn't bear resentment. You won't recognise it when you see his expression. He doesn't bear resentment, he bears no malice. Never once malice. Anger, frustration, stubbornness, being 'I'm right', yes. Malice, no. When he lost his eye in a brawl I never heard him once whinge or moan or express a resentful word about the chap who inflicted that injury.
POM I suppose what I'm getting at is, is he a loner?
NN He could be if he wanted to.
POM Is he a sociable person or sociable when it's necessary but not a party goer?
NN Not a party goer. He's sociable when necessary but he can be alone with himself.
POM I'm still looking for that feeling of him.
NN It's very difficult actually. We haven't been together in a normal space of time. All that deep involvement I didn't share any of that. Up to the point he made the decision when we were students, yes, and afterwards. Whenever I see him he's much the same person. He's fighting for a principle, he's fighting for an idea and he's stubborn about that. When I met him the other day I asked him, "Why did you answer questions on matters you needn't have answered?"
POM Good question.
NN And he said, "Well, I was feeding to the public because the television cameras were there." But then if I was advising him I might have advised him differently because I've known him for a long time, I know how he comes across. He's not the person he seems to be and the argument he's presenting is far too sophisticated. You've got to take your audience into account. [The Hefer commission was sitting at the time]
POM Final question, a peculiar one because it will require your imagination, or maybe not, it might require your imagination. If he died and you were invited to be part of the eulogy, what would you say?
NN I think he's one of the bravest men South Africa has had. Mac is bloody brave. Remember this guy was tortured, he was in hell. He comes out of it and he still goes on. I think he's a great guy.
POM OK. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.
NN Let's see, if I had to judge him and if he was guilty, that judgement would be harsh. The judgement would be very, very harsh. Equally, if he was to judge me, that judgement would be harsh. So I will be very careful in my judgement, I would trust my life with him. You know I saw him being tortured. I know what he endured. If I had half of what they did to him, these guys.
A while ago they had a reproduction of Indians that arrived in Durban and they made it look as though they were coming in as settlers. The truth is they came in as bonded labourers and the conditions under which they were transported was marginally better than that used for slaves.
Well they were worse because a slave was property but if you were an indentured labourer you were a chattel. You were replaceable.
JD Nobody cared about you.
NN That's right. I feel terrible about it when people deny their own past. My one thing is that I'm probably becoming a bloody racialist the wrong way round. Mind you, when I was detained the chap who held me was an Indian and I hated him. I didn't mind an Afrikaner roughing me up. They're enemies, I expected it. If I had to rough him up I might have. But to have an Indian policeman hurt me!
POM When you were growing up did you, your family, did they consider themselves Indians, I mean Indians first or - ?
POM What was the sense of identity, of association?
NN I don't know. It was always a problem. I never thought about it actually. It didn't make any difference, I just regard myself as a human being just like anybody else. I refuse to have anybody call me sir, master, boss. I constantly remind them I'm just another person, just one ordinary person.
POM But in your family?
NN Oh, my father always said life is just a journey, it's life between two points, birth, death. Make it as comfortably and as safely and as happily as possible. Don't hurt anyone and when you go you'll go the way you came, naked. That is all. He said it takes a lifetime to build a reputation for integrity, a moment to lose it, so guard it.
POM So when you got to college or whatever most of the people you associated with were of Indian origin.
NN We had Africans as well.
POM I know, but 90% -
NN But they're not all my friends.
POM But again, who did you associate with?
NN Mostly well one was, he calls himself a South African He said, "My grandfather was an Irishman, the other one was an African", and the result was called a South African. He was there and one was a Moslem, Elias Motolla, then Mac, myself.
POM Who was the Moslem?
NN Elias Motolla. He was a Moslem. But you can see the group was mixed. I didn't go along with Indians only and I didn't seek them out or anything like that. I had more in common with Edward Nicholls. I learnt a lot from him as well.
POM So you didn't have a sense of it's ironic that like next door to where you live you had people fighting day and night over identity, through identity politics, in Northern Ireland.
NN I would object. I'm prepared to defend a mosque, I'm prepared to defend a synagogue, a church, a temple, anything to let people have their way but I want them to respect me, to go my own way.
POM Where is your sense of cultural belonging?
NN It's mixed.
POM I'll tell you why I'm interested, it's for a reason. I visited a number of people who were associated with Mac in the sixties here who later went to the UK and they mostly live up in Finchley. I stepped off the tube and I went into a video store to see was I in the right place and to give me the right directions, and I looked around and every video in the place was an Indian video, Indian movies. Every artefact there was Indian. I visited two or three homes and just straight in Finchley, every house looks the very same as you walk down a street and you walk inside a door and there's nothing but Indian, statues, wedding photographs.
NN Oh you're talking about South Africans living in London.
POM Well yes, I'm also talking about South African Indians living in South Africa. Was the war of independence in India a topic of conversation? Was that something where everybody was kind of a part of?
NN On the colonial struggle, yes. As part of the broader struggle, yes. But we were interested in China, wherever there was a movement for independence from the imperial enterprise, yes, but not because we are Indians. There's no special feeling. We regard them just as any other.
POM So you didn't even regard yourself as South African but more as a human being who happened to be in a piece of territory called South Africa.
NN That's right.
POM So when you went to the UK?
NN In a funny sort of way I'm more English. I'm quite happy to live with. I find the Anglican Church quite accessible, even though I'm an agnostic, it's broad enough. I can go along with the Archbishop on many things he says. But then I can get along with Archbishop Tutu as well quite easily but I have difficulty with the people I came out of. I just find it difficult.
NN With Indians. I can't talk to them. They live on a different moral plane to me.
NN I just have difficulty. I can't see myself as being special or different. I have sympathy for the people of Northern Ireland if they're not given the right to Why shouldn't they ?
I've a book from Phyllis Naidoo, a reproduction of documents kept at the Indian Affairs Department. It's a list of ships, ship's list of Indian arrivals, numbers, documentation, complaints, the complete history. And then when you go through them, I was just browsing through it, I just learned that this movement wasn't as I thought it was. I thought it was that the Indians wanted to get out of their poverty and they got on a boat and came to work here. But it wasn't like that. It followed pretty close on to the emancipation of slaves. It also follows close on to the demand for sugar. It's tied up with the sugar politics. And the kind of punishments that happened which also shows what happens when one group of people are placed under the control of other people and then you begin asking: why don't they have Department of Protector of Indian Affairs? It's like having a protector for slaves, but suddenly a piece of paper which said, 'Free Indian is charged', indentured free Indian. Nobody was prepared to ask what this document was about. So it was serfdom. To block all this out when these people are celebrating their arrival, makes one wonder.
POM Well I will leave it at that and thank you. I appreciate both your time and the knowledge that Mac has a good friend.