UNIVERSITY OF DURBAN – WESTVILLE
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
"VOICES OF RESISTANCE”
INTERVIEWEE SUNNY SINGH
INTERVIEWER C DE VOS
DATE 28 MAY 2002
ADDRESS FLAT 130
39 VICTORIA EMBANKMENT
CDV This is an interview with Sunny Singh. We are speaking to him on May 28th; interviewer is Christian de Vos from the Human Sciences Research Council for the “VOICES OF RESISTANCE “ Project of the University of Durban-Westville’s Documentation Centre. Okay. Thank you very much, Sunny, for speaking with us today. I’m going to touch a little bit on your early life, when you were born in South Africa; where, exactly, were you born?
SS Well it was about between 7 and 8km’s west; what, south-west of Durban; area called Cato Manor; in a colony Cumba, it was a sort of a formal and semi-formal settlement, in the 50’s, where Indians had settled; it is out in the periphery of the city. My parents came from a working class background. My Dad came as a kind of indentured labourer; to the province; when he was still very young; at the beginning of the last century; in other words, the twentieth century and it was a rather big family. I think I was the third in all in the family with my parents I think we talk about family as what, about 9.
CDV You had 9 siblings or all together.
SS No, with parents we were 9, and children I was about the 10th, the youngest. We had problems schooling then, there were very few primary schools in the area; and so I ended up going to Primary school very late in my life; and finishing at a higher primary, if I may describe it as today’s higher primary and I was already about eighteen years old.
CDV Eighteen when you finished?
SS Ya, Eighteen when I finished primary, late.
CDV How old where you when you started?
SS I was about, easily eleven or twelve years old, and this was leading up to the 2nd World war period because I was born in 1939 and, you know, there was very few schools in the area then, although it had a very large Indian population; I think there was easily between forty and fifty thousand Indians residing there; mostly private homes; built by Indians themselves; there wasn’t government or city council finance; and we were leasing; and the land did not belong to us and we had a landlord, who happened to be Indian, quite a ruthless guy and that’s when my bitterness and my early stages of understanding of oppression started and my first understanding was the harsh treatment meted out against the family from the Indian landlord. So my first taste of oppression was not from the white, but from the immediate enemy, I would have seen at that stage in my life was an Indian landlord. So as I say, schooling was neglected because of poverty and also fewer schools, so I had to go after Standard Six, I had to go and look for a job. I worked in a club 1957,58.
CDV And, um, when you say you finished your schooling at the age of 18 and began it at 12; were, did you going to school straight through or was it interrupted by…
SS No there was no interruption at primary school; but high school, I couldn’t go to high school because of cost factor and because we needed, you know, my Dad had passed away and my eldest brother passed away, as well. The were pressures very much on the family to meet day to day needs. I went to a high school there; uh, um already in ’58 ’59. I believe I was already getting involved in youth politics and how it came about, this fellow was formally getting involved and so um my understanding and awareness started on a larger scale, I think, two or three years earlier, from 1956.
CDV Is this the time you joined the Natal Indian Congress?
SS Ah, around the period, not immediately 1956, because we had our own problems then because even though I was about seventeen or eighteen years, ah we couldn’t just leave and go into the cities outside; we were restricted because of family pressure and so forth because security and I, when at school already in ’56 ah there was this big trial taking place in the country. The Treason Trial. And that was a kind of awareness beginning to develop, and I began to, not realising then obviously, uh that I was beginning to understand the local dynamic at the level of my area and was staying in the those conditions then and understanding, so I can talk about our exploitation and oppression today because one has come a long way since then, but looking at it in a very rudimentary form I could see, and understand, develop a kind of consciousness and understand the real enemy, at that stage, for me from day to day was landlordism and when I look at that and understand and contextualize peoples’ suffering and see it was more than just the landlord. The bigger enemy was the regime of the period and a kind of bigger picture I could see and the kind of consciousness to began to grow when the trial took place and they arrested our leaders, including Nelson Mandela or Walter Sisulu. But I couldn’t understand and see the situation then, and what further sharpened the consciousness, was when there was a notorious law passed in 1950, the Group Areas and so forth and then the eviction of our people, I realised that the landlords were bigger so many whites and kind of an awareness and that is what drove me to the struggle, and I joined formally, an organisation, then it was the Natal Indian Youth Congress.
CDV Just before we get into the NIC, I am wondering when you spoke earlier about your landlord, did you see that as a racial oppression or did you feel, are you speaking more in the racial dimension evolved as you said, in a more contextual way?
SS Well you see if you look at it today, at that time and, if how can can say, we were still in our napkins, still ah, belly crawling. We didn’t understand and that kind of consciousness and the environmental factors and social issues, and the education, more important, we only, you know, didn’t have the kind of educational exposure as I said earlier were made to move out of the suburbs, seven eight kilometres away you know so you can imagine we had a cloistered life.
CDV When you say your education, was it an all Indian school or ?…
SS All Indian school, schools were Indian schools, racial at all levels of education. Well if I may say so, I didn’t think it was or don’t think it was racial, um , racial exploitation by Indian landlords against the Indians. It was purely greed and which was exploitation, it was a class factor, it was a class factor, I can say that today because I understand it and put it back to that point in time in history.
CDV I see, um when you talk about joining the Natal Indian Congress in 1956, what lead you to the NIC, in particular?
SS Well, because, issues as an Indian, I saw myself, at that stage, because we were still young and understanding of the issues and the dynamics prevalent, at that point in time, and the Group Areas Act and a lot of other laws that were affecting Indians, right, and there was an organisation, in a sense, championing the rights of the minorities, in this case the Indian people, a whole lot of other laws were enacted against the Indian population close to other racial groups in particular African people. Basic human rights were denied as racial discriminatory laws were enacted by Parliament I can say that now, you know, in a more articulate and fuller form. There was an organisation then that was formed by Mahathma Gandhi in 1893, and lead by progressive leadership in the period, in the ‘50’s, you know, the Yusuf Dadoos and Dr Naickers of this world and there was the closest organisations one could reach out to and join the organisation for the championing of the rights of the down trodden people, you see, and the legal form of struggle. And that’s what took me to the Natal Indian Congress and, of course, the Youth Congress.
CDV Right, and after your joining, what kind of a role did you come to play in the Congress?
SS Now basically, I didn’t play any leadership role, I was young and went searching for the organisation all through town. In fact, no one came to my door and said come and recruited me, I went and knocked on the doors of the office of the Congress and then weekly I used to attend meetings in the city, right. At that stage I was already working, 1957, 58. And well, the leadership and organisation offices were in the city, you know.
CDV And, what kind of work were you doing, at this time?
SS I was working in a club.
CDV A club?
SS Ah, a club, an all white club. Ya. A very elite, all white club.
CDV What was that experience like working in an all white club?
SS Well, all white club, you know, well we have sugar here now and Head of Tongaat Hulett would himself come to the club, Guy Hulett, the managing director, and renowned horse trainers and what have you, judges would come. In a sense of course, I don’t know, there was obviously exploitation in terms of the salary and so forth, but we used to make tips and so forth. It was about survival. I had a job; I had a stable job, you know, and ya, that’s it.
CDV Um, was your family politically active at the time?
SS No, my family were not politically active, I did not come from a home where they were politically active but raised simple folks working class, my Dad came down as an indentured labourer. My Mother was born in South Africa, in Durban, uh ya.
CDV And your siblings? Were you the most politically involved of your siblings or did other brothers or sisters say join the NIC, as well?
SS No. No. No. None of them. I was the only active member in politics and no one opposed my involvement or activity because of course my arrest came later right, my arrest possibly because of my clandestine operations obviously came as a shock to the family.
CDV Right. Were they supportive at that time of your activism, or did you find it difficult to talk about it?
SS No uh, it was legal and protest politics.
CDV I see, …
SS It was protest politics; it was campaigns; it was boycotts, right, situations where we are giving out leaflets, holding meetings, you know, to youth meetings and so forth, conscientising. They didn’t see any threat on me you know, any police or something, but then I was involved in a subtle and clandestine way that perhaps will come later you’ll ask me about why I joined ANC/MK.
CDV Lets turn to that now, well what did lead you to join the ANC/MK and at which point was there a shift, or was there a shift in your NIC involvement to the MK and ANC.
SS Ya, see I didn’t see a contradiction coming from the Indian Congress; coming from the Gandhian Principles of Passive Resistance; defiance campaign and so forth and peaceful forms of struggle. I found my own understanding, that stage perhaps, when I wasn’t so mature but if I reflect now, and contextualise it, I found that it was mutually inclusive, you follow. My political struggle and my armed struggle, well the thing was it was a violent form of struggle and I explain why it was a violent form of struggle but violent can also be relative. We did not take human lives. We were not, we were strictly warned not to injure. We could damage state property but to make sure, absolute sure no one was injured or you know wounded or killed, if you wish.
CDV Just to jump back a second, you mentioned Gandhian Principles, other than Gandhi, were there other thinkers, writers that you had turned to during the conscientising period in your life?
SS Not immediately, not immediately uh I wasn’t exposed to any literature situation, you know, it was more in the context of our own situation. I did not look at beyond our boarders of other revolutions outside from the 60’s because not much was taking place I think at that stage other than maybe Cuba, ’59 60.
SS South East Asia, maybe Vietnam and all that, but I mean I wasn’t then having international understanding of the global politics but suffice to say that Nelson Mandela, Nelson Mandela was the inspirational force. Mandela’s ah secret departure from South Africa, and then he went to Algeria for his training and so forth, then he was on a political mission as well to lobby support for the isolation of South Africa and for new emerging African nations to give support and so forth to our cause for freedom in this country and when he came back I was privileged to meet him in Durban in one home of some Indians in Reservoir Hills. Obviously, it was a very highly secretive meeting taken there, and the talk itself was quite inspiring. It was already 1960, 61, you know, and Mandela was arrested in 1962, you know.
CDV Um, this meeting that you’re talking about, where Mandela spoke, you had already joined as an MK, is that right?
SS Ya, ya. Ya. Ya. Ya I had already joined MK. I joined MK two months after its formation, in about February 1962.
CDV 1962, Lets talk about that, how exactly did that come to pass? Was that a place you went to sign up or did people that you spoke to that you spoke to where talking about it? What kind of …
SS No it was, it was done in a very subtle, and clandestine manner. Very secretively. Obviously people weren’t around, it was done with scouts, like talent scouts or whatever looking for people suitable for that type of work or something.
SS And I was approached obviously and as I was recruited and became a member of a cell in the Durban Central Area.
CDV And how many other people where involved with you?
SS One, Two, Three, Four. Four.
CDV And with other Indians or other men.
SS All Indians, all Indians.
CDV Okay, what was your cell charged with in particular?
SS Alright, I think the cell was a tasked to look for certain targets, targets again I must state not where peoples lives are involved, not office blocks at the times when people are employed or a residence or something, but targets that are stationary, office, railway lines, railway signals power transmission carriers and government buildings.
CDV And um, how many operations would you say you were involved in prior to arrest?
SS I think I was involved in major operations, about four.
CDV Four operations. And what kind of communication did you have outside of the four people in your immediate cell? Did you know what kind of command structure was beyond your immediate unit?
SS Ya, naturally there was a command structure. Higher levels of command and leadership, what one could describe as regional command and then you had the district command and then the cells. Look to cover their different respected areas, and our units.
CDV How many cells would you say were there approximately say in the Durban area?
SS Durban area, including the townships must have been easily about five to seven cells.
CDV Five to seven cells?
CDV Did you know people in the other cells?
SS No, not a clue at all. Not a clue.
CDV I see. And did you have secret meetings.
SS Secret meetings we used to go out to practice how to you know, lay charges, how to do experiments, how to use a timing device, to use watches for timing device, timing devices um ya.
CDV Was it difficult to maintain that level of secrecy?
SS No, I absolutely no difference, it was kind of natural .
CDV Uh Huh.
SS Natural because we realised, yes it was a very dangerous mission, yes, yes, yes they working clandestinely coming home late and so forth, I think we had a sense of value and commitment and dedication, which demanded a high sense of discipline, very high discipline and morality. Execute tasks and mission we had, had to perform.
CDV So you never had any doubts about what you were doing?
SS No. No . No I had, a things was talking about commitment and a form of struggle, naturally, uh at that stage because of action and the youth, I look at that point in time in history actually a bit of adventure in it, because it was action. You did have the enemies. There is action; it is not just theory; leaflets and so forth, meetings. There was a turning point, a turning point, South African’s turning point in history was 1960, when the African National Congress was banned.
SS The premier liberation movement was banned. There was no other avenues of peaceful protest in the country, by the principle premier liberation movement. And, the ANC had senior and many members of Christian faith and other religions and denominations and immediately our first Noble Lauret in Africa Chief Albert Luthuli in the way he was giving his blessing but with a proviso that no lives were lost and that was a fundamental shift, turning point in our history 1960, 61 I believe, you know.
CDV So, taking this as our starting point, 1960 / 61 how long was that before you were eventually arrested?
SS See, right, from a peaceful form of struggle it is a whole political map of this country began to change, right?
SS 1961, which was on the 16th major arms struggle, started throughout the major cities, bomb explosions, right, Mandela leaves the country right? And in exile, remember the senior members began to go into exile to open up Missions abroad ’62, right, Mandela returns from his tour, right which I mentioned, the meeting ’62/ 1963, there was a spate of bombings and actions. Obviously government, the regime was very worried, very worried about it and they had to do something. Then they had to pass vicious laws, had to amend certain laws. There were already security laws that were already in place, example there were amendments to the General Law, Amendment Act, to the Sabotage Act and then it was further amended to the Ninety days clause which was introduced to the Sabotage Act, General Law Amendment Act. Where in May/ June ‘63 the first arrest of suspects takes place right, and some people broker down right, due to torture, then other errors began to take place. So I got arrested. In August, 7th August 1963.
CDV And a, who else where you arrested with?
SS I was arrested in Durban, confined to a police station for about a week or so. Went for interrogation, not tortured you could say torture is torture it is serious, electric shock and they make you stand in the one spot for forty eight hours.
CDV That did not happen?
SS Ah, assault I don’t regard assault as a torture. Beaten up, physically beaten up you know, okay but I wouldn’t regards that as a torture but I have to be honest to myself. Right, I didn’t speak so they could not get anything from me. I didn’t speak.
CDV When you say they couldn’t get anything from you, is that because you didn’t know the answers, what …
SS No, because they wanted to know whether I was involved, right, treason. All I said was try me on whatever evidence you got but I am not going to agree with you that I did it. You say the other colleague from my cell broke down and said I was involved in the operation, well then try me. I am not going to confess to that. If I confess I am implicating myself.
CDV Did you fear that they might torture you?
SS Well, I think there was a stage where they tried to scare us, scare tactics, they realised they had enough evidence, what two months, two weeks later something like that we were all brought to trial, nineteen of us October 1963.
CDV Was it held in Pietermaritzburg?
CDV Okay, just quickly, when you said they were trying these scare tactics, what kind, what does that mean?
SS Ya, they lock me up and deny me food and that kind of thing. Just all shock tactics, you see.
CDV Um, now you said some other person in your cell had broken down. Where all the other people in your cell being arrested when you were arrested or had they been arrested as well?
SS Ya, ya. Ya all of them were arrested. Their arrest took place because one of them spoke was beaten up and he spoke.
CDV I see. When you were bought to trial? How did you find the trial? What kind of representation did you have? What kind of defence did you put on?
SS The trial was quite interesting because it was then described as one of the biggest trials then, in the history of the province and this was the Pietermaritzburg Supreme Court and because of the senior leadership of the African National Congress and some of them were prominent trade unionists and also members of the Natal Indian Congress. The accused in this trial of nineteen, so there was lot of coverage and local newspapers and I think uh fortunately we had a liberal judge sitting in on our trial, Justice Cyril Milne and I remember his first name now and we had excellent lawyers.
CDV Who represented you?
SS Well, we were then - the instructing attorney was Roley Arenstein, one of the leading attorneys, at that point in time, in the South African legal fraternity; and our Senior Council Gerwoods and Wilson, who is now a commissioner of the TRC; and our advocate, who subsequently became a judge, a supreme court judge, and then Theron, Theron, Justice Theron, who was acting or Attorney General of the province, who resigned in protest, something or other happened, and joined the bar and our lawyers briefed him and he joined our defence team. An Afrikaaner, at that stage, and he became one of the leading cross examiners in our trial and became highly respected even by South Africa’s most Senior Defence Council, like Bram Fischer; and you know, there were no faxes then – telegraphs of congratulations to Theron in breaking a star witness in our trial.
CDV I see, and how long did the trial last for?
SS Well, we were brought to trial in October I think, ‘63, and we were convicted at the end of February, ‘64.
CDV Okay, and your conviction, what was your sentence?
SS Ten years.
CDV Ten years on Robben Island? How did you feel when you heard that?
SS You know ah, it didn’t scare me, but if you ask me why, I can’t tell you; I didn’t feel cold or anything, right, because it was such a kind of a spirit within us; and a kind and a unity; a unity of purpose right; and comradeship, and that we were together inspite of the sentence meted out of ten years or twenty years we said: ‘ no, we won’t spend to much time in prison because we are sure of what we are fighting for, and it is a just cause.’ And I think that was what kept our spirit and quite inspired; that this regime will not last out, you know, ya, uh that was an immediate reaction to your response of how we felt, but, of course , when we went to prison, of course I can talk for myself, I can’t talk for the collective; each one will have their own opinions, I realised that the condition in prison was quite frightening.
CDV Right, just before we, because I want to talk in more depth about Robben Island, but I am just curious when you speak about that comradeship and unity of purpose, when you did find out that a comrade of yours who had been tortured had informed, which lead to yours and others arrests, did you feel bitter? Did you understand? Did you, were you angry, were you prepared for that possibility?
SS Ah, ya, when we were being, what do you call, you see before, when we were being recruited in ‘61/’ 62, they said there was possibilities; that we have to have people who could be strong as steel; and possibilities that the human factor of people breaking down and so forth.
SS And uh, we never had the kind of experience where certain laws could be laid down, you know, what would happen if you speak, actions what will happen. What the law will do, what the organisation will do about a person who speaks out or becomes a collaborator, a witness; we didn’t, at that stage, visualise that because the point was we were still young then and learning, you follow, we had never experienced anything, so this was a first time for something like this so when it happened it came as a shock. We had to adjust and adapt very fast. Right, we had to close in you know, close in and give each other strength and that’s what kept us going was unity, as I said earlier you know, and how you deal with this situation, obviously you know, there are people who didn’t get arrested who’d sort those people out; would deal with them; either isolating them; or possibilities of getting hold of them or dealing with them thoroughly; you see.
CDV So how old were you when you arrived on Robben Island?
SS Twenty three.
CDV Twenty three; that’s my age; and uh lets talk about your first few months when you were there; what were they like; what do you remember most?
SS The first moments on arrival on Robben Island, I remember when we left Leeukop Prison from Jo’burg, Johannesburg; the warder said, “No man, you are going to like a picnic island; you will have a picnic there compared to the mainland prison.” So we were a bit excited about it. We are going to Robben Island, wow, Robben Island, you know; Mandela was there; he was already convicted in ’62, been there five years. When our trial was in progress Mandela’s trial, Rivonia people, they were on trial, so the trial was going on, so you know …
SS Simultaneously. So okay, we arrive on Robben Island and the days to come; the second day; the second week; and so forth. The conditions and the treatment meted out against us was horrible. We were still in our youth; first time this kind of exposure; I’m not talking about general conditions that were primitive, you know, harsh.
CDV A little back we were speaking of Robben Island and your feelings for the first few months there.
SS Ya, you see, as I said, we were young, some of us, two or three or us …
SS One guy must have been about twenty two, twenty one, twenty two.
CDV So you were on the younger side of your comrades?
SS Ya, and uh they were out to deal with us, you could see, physically, psychologically, and otherwise.
CDV Who is they?
SS The regime, in prison you know, the guards.
CDV The guards.
SS They are part of the whole system, hey.
SS The food, the medical side, the bedding side, and the working conditions were terrible and on top of that torture, assaults.
CDV Where you tortured?
SS I wasn’t tortured, but the working conditions itself I could describe was torture, a form of torture; I’ll describe that in a moment, right. So all these things; and then the climatic factors because in winter it is very harsh, the conditions there. The island is flat there is no protection against wind, and it is very cold. In 1964, I still remember, South Africa had experienced its worst winter in thirty six years, 1964, and we had bare minimum clothing, no underwear, no underwear, we had to just use a prison uniforms and uh black prisoners were not given pants, right, they were given shorts in winter; shorts, right, in those conditions and its really ugly, ugly; the treatment; the discrimination; we were all ‘non white’ prisoners; when I say ‘non white’ I mean Coloured, Indian and African prisoners. Of course, African was the most, right. I am talking about political prisoners; and they were mixed up with criminals, hardened criminals. Some of South Africa’s most hardened criminals were there. So that was also another negative element against us, working against us. So what was torture, where the prisoners were brutally assaulted; brutally assaulted; right, a form of torture. We were punished, where we were denied food some days for the whole day, okay, and just general conditions were terrible. I remember, just talking for myself, the wheel barrows were loaded right up, full; and to push the wheel barrow, iron wheel barrow in the sea sand; it won’t move; and these chaps will beat you up on your back with batons. This is 1964, this went on for three/four years. Only due to pressure, hunger strikes, protests and so forth, did conditions begin to improve slightly, you know, but there wasn’t like a fundamental shift; there wasn’t like a fundamental shift in terms of diet, bedding or any of the conditions I explained earlier.
CDV Did you maintain a sense of hope when you were going through all of this?
SS See, I would be lying, I don’t want to now, being interviewed here to give the impression to you of a hero; we are human beings and we also have strengths and weaknesses. At that moment it was frightening, not the kind of feeling that ran, at any stage in my ten years, that hey, I must compromise and talk to the enemy, the regime; and ask forgiveness, that please release me, I won’t do it again. That kind of thought never ever entered in my head, never in my ten years, you know. Why? Because again as I mentioned earlier during the course of the interview that we were still very young, the level of the understanding of the politics and consciousness was still very low but five, six, seven years apart then eight years you become more mature and you begin to close in, but close in, give each other strength, solidarity, you know, and care for each other. Never mind, we will win in the end, kind of thing, right. So there was an inner strength, the spiritual side of it as well, that we shall overcome, kind of thing right, but not sort of in a romantic way. But then again, the conditions that meted out, one was the ideal, the other being the conditions were tough, but having said that in no way where there was a kind of showing there was a kind of weakness. When we embarked on a hunger strike we went full course hunger strike. When we said we’ll go seven days without eating, we went without food for seven days, not one of us shirked and said, ‘no, I can’t manage,’ that kind of thing. So there was a sense of unity and tremendous solidarity and then we were further encouraged after Madiba, Mandela and them were sentenced, the kind of strength and support we were getting, you know. Sure it was the human factor, the weaknesses amongst some of us, and then there was political divisions in prison, as well, right, within the different political groups. If one political organisation, say the ANC go on a hunger strike the other one will drag its feet and say: ‘no,’ they will start eating, you know, there was that kind of problem. See, when these guys are traitors and they are betraying you know, your principles and this kind of thing.
CDV What was the longest hunger strike you’ve been on?
SS I think the longest was I think most most must have been about five or six days.
CDV Five or six days, there are just a couple of passages that I was reading in Mandela’s book about his time on Robben Island that I wanted to read briefly, to hear your thoughts about. One is on the issue of hunger strikes and also the communication between prisoners. He says: “Through a plastic-wrapped note hidden in a food drum we learnt in July ‘66 that the men in the general section had an embarked on a hunger strike to protest of the poor conditions. The note was imprecise and we did not know exactly when the strike had started and what exactly it was about, but we would support any strike of prisoners for what ever reason they were striking. Word was passed among us and we resolved to negotiate a sympathetic strike beginning with our next meal.” Right, is that the particular strike you were speaking of?
SS Ya. Ya ya ya
CDV What strikes me also is the way he describes the communication between prisoners.
SS Ya Ya I will come to that, I will come to that. Ay we had to devise means of keeping in touch with the leadership. One of them was in plastic packets we smuggled notes and sink it into the hot porridge, one of the things. More other subtle forms, I mean sophisticated forms were shoes. In shoes. In shoes that are broken and stitched like messages, and newspapers. Like, I was responsible for the collection and collation and distribution of news for about eight years. We were not allowed newspapers, you were punished severely if you were caught. The whole idea in the exercise was to cut us out the rest of the world to further dampen our spirit, our moral so if you get news, our moral is high and they didn’t like that you know, even the Farmers Weekly, the English Economist was censored, you know. We had ways and means of getting newspapers. At one stage, we managed to even have a radio, and of course, we had to find a way when to switch on for the news, you know, Cape of Good Hope news, or Springbok [Radio] news, which was the National Broadcaster, but we managed to smuggle this news from warders’ homes, the radios, and we had to get criminals, whom we politicised, you know, we won them over.
CDV So who was …?
SS I mean criminals right, won them over and they managed to smuggle radios, and newspapers and old magazines that they had with political news as an example I used to subscribe to the one magazine, The Economist, the English Economist and then they realised that we were getting the news. They stopped the subscription, and even Farmers Weekly. I mean Farmers Weekly was stopped as well by security and how they got to know about it was through informers; they had their own informers there.
CDV There is another passage he reads, “As I have already mentioned, I found solitary confinement the most forbidding aspect of prison life. There was no end and there was no beginning. There is only ones own Mind, which can begin to play tricks; was that a dream or did it really happen. One begins to question everything; did I make the right decision; was my sacrifice worth it? In solitary there is no distraction from these haunting questions. But the human body has an enormous capacity for adjusting to trying circumstances. I have found that one can bear the unbearable if one can keep ones spirit strong even when one’s body is being tested. Strong convictions are the secret of surviving deprivation, your spirit can be full even when your stomach is empty.’ I was wondering if you were ever in solitary confinement?
SS No, I wasn’t in solitary confinement for long period of time; just a short period for about three days, three days, ya. I don’t think more than, ya, not more than three days. Ya, nothing, Ya nothing.
CDV Can you identify with what he says though about the mind?
SS Ya, Ya, Ya. Amazing, amazing. I think, again I think the qualities which will depend on the individual again; depending on the individual; the group he was in, seven or eight of them, these are the men, the leaders who were steeled and tempered by struggle; had a long history, they were already, they had what, twenty/ twenty five years history of struggle when they were convicted in 1963/64. They became active in the early 40’s, so you looking at twenty, twenty five years.
SIDE II – TAPE A
SS Amazing energy they had; the staying power and the kind of invincibility of the human spirit against the force of darkness, you know, the human spirit triumphed, you know, yes sometimes you went without food, or some, many of our own people from our own section, general section, were punished and amazing, they had to overcome that, you know, a kind of torture in isolation, or deprived of food, you know, that kind of thing, and to come out of that, because you know I mean their level of understanding of the issues and the politics and the morality dictated, you know. Sure, uh as I said earlier some moments are frightening. You know, moments were frightening, but again I think uh they realised there was a positive, uh what do you call, what they were fighting for was positive and noble, you know, and finally even if it’s ten/twenty years victory was in sight.
CDV Did you hate the guards on Robben Island?
SS In initial period I would say because they were vicious, sadistic and a kind of thing where they wanted provoke you for your blood to boil, yes some of us, many of us, were very sort of provoked, you know, in terrible ways, in some moments when there were violent responses to their provocation, and we always told our staff and the leadership, warning against falling prey for this kind of provocation. They will really, thoroughly deal with you, that kind of thing, right. You have moments, one or two chaps, you are only human, that fell for this provocation; they wanted to react and they were severely punished, assaulted and put in straight jacket and isolated. Sent to the isolation cells. And I think, by and large, an amazing level of patience and tolerance. The tolerance level was amazing, where we didn’t fall for this and it angered them and and and what do you call it we provoked them, they were taxing our patience and we didn’t fall for that.
CDV Was there a leadership struck, excuse me, a leadership structure amongst the political prisoners on Robben Island, say you were speaking Mandela’s group, did you have a group to speak of?
SS Ya. Ya there was a leadership in the general sections, like big cells. Each cell had a leadership, right you know, then you had a section leadership and then the over all the general section prison and leadership we will call a DC. Disciplinary Committee. Right. The leadership were Mandela and them, they obviously had the Committees, themselves. Also in the book he talks about it.
CDV And was this formed by the prisoners themselves?
SS No. Political prisoners. Each organisation had there own leadership, not generally.
CDV I see.
SS The PAC had there own leadership.
CDV Right, speaking of the ANC leadership, was that, like when you got there and you began to learn a bit that was something that had been developed already by the ANC prisoners on the Island.
SS Ya Ya
CDV And then you kind of fell in line with that?
SS Ya Ya
CDV Mandela also speaks of how Robben Island came to be known as like Robben Island University. Did you study there?
SS Ya Makana University, ya we uh, many prisoners studied there. I told you earlier, in the beginning, that I had not completed my matric. I went to primary school and I did night studies. I didn’t go far in the night studies, so I enrolled for matric there, and of course, I didn’t complete my matric there because I was punished and my studies were taken away. I was punished because I was caught with a newspaper, as I told you this was a serious offence if you’re caught with a newspaper.
SS And so I was just reading uh, I was mainly specialising in Russian and French literature, all the Russian and French classics I read in prison there.
CDV Who did you like the most when you were reading?
SS Well I mean I like Tolstoy and Gorgel ,Gorky Mapusant, and the one of the French writers, Hugo, Victor Hugo. Um, ya.
CDV Um, a lot of people talk about how ten years they look back and time flies, do you think that way about your time in Robben Island?
SS Ya, Ya
CDV Or was it every day of ten years?
SS No, no the first few years was very, very long years; the first three four years because of the conditions but I think after four / five years of incarceration, time was flying, talking for myself, talking for myself, I don’t want to generalise because people have their own ideas. We became very active in sports, that was also quite a struggle in its own right. We had to protest and we had to fight for sports. But as I said earlier, I was in charge of news, so I always knew what was happening in the world situation. The problems in Africa; the Middle East conflict; the Six Day war in the Middle East; then in ‘73 the Yom Kippur, October ‘ 73; then June ’67 the Six Day War conflict; all this history, I was very active mentally. Preparing notes; smuggling them to leadership; reading my novels; and so forth, so time was flying for me and I used to go and give news to the groups the next day; the number of groups; come back in the evening; give news to our people there; the ANC group in single cells, and then continuing with whatever newspapers we smuggled. Write them on toilet papers until ten eleven at night, the whole night the cells lights were on. They don’t switch off our lights, so you know, the days are flying . Weekend comes, Friday, Saturday sport, Sunday sport. So you know, even though I did not study my days were flying; my years were flying; my months were flying.
CDV Um, what kind of contact did you have with your family during this time?
SS My, my, my first visit was from my Mother, August ’64. So my Mother, we were graded in our groups, D group. D group was allowed one visit in six months. So my Mother - no contact visit, so my Mum came first. August was the most vicious and terrible month.Not in prison, but because of the weather conditions in the Cape, rain and wind and cold weather. ’64, as I told you, was the coldest year in thirty six years in that part of South Africa.
SS Ya, so I had contact; my sister couldn’t visit me because of the age; it was more, once or twice some friends visited me, but it was more my Mother who visited me.
CDV How did it feel to see your Mother only once every six months?
SS Quite, well I mean it was difficult; for her it was very emotional ya, standing and seeing the conditions; seeing me cut off.
CDV Okay, you were released in 1974, correct? Your ten years?
SS ’74, Ya.
CDV Okay, when you left the island, what were you feeling? You are 33 now?
SS Not now.
CDV Ya, at the time you were released in ’74.
SS Ya, ya I am Sixty Three now [laughter], a good few years later; 30 years have passed now; hard to believe it right; goes fast, right.
CDV Goes fast?
SS Very fast, and so many things have happened in the world now. It was quite, quite touchy hey, we were just called, we were playing sport, called to pack our bags, whatever things, belongingss and get to the cells where Mandela and them were confined. We were kept there for a couple of hours; and then taken to the reception,; whatever personal belongings and some money we had there, you know; and then to the boat, ferry to a mainland prison. And then from there we were taken to Johannesburg Prison in vehicles, uh transport vehicles. It was very touchy leaving here, leaving your friends and colleges and comrades behind, and it was very touchy also, we were fortunate, the leadership, Mandela and all were there to say goodbye to us and farewell, you know. It was very touchy and emotional.
CDV Were you scared when you left the island?
SS No, no.
SS I wasn’t scared; I wasn’t scared. Prison hardened one; hardened one in a positive way. Not that it turned us into beasts or animals or any of those things. Though the conditions were barbaric; we turned the whole island Around. They tried turn us to animals, but we turned it around to become better human beings, you know.
CDV When you, when you left Robben Island did you return home?
CDV Did you work for that period afterwards?
SS When I returned home I was here in Durban Central Prison, I was confined for a few days and they told my family that they would take me home, the police. They lied, of course, and so when they released me here; so when I got out the gates opened, the prison gates; there was nobody there and I had no belt, so I had to go to a shop and buy a belt, and of course I was a new size and I bought the 2 Sunday newspapers (laughing), Sunday Times, Sunday Express, all the newspapers, there was no hurry to go home, I went looking for a friend’s office, Phyllis Naidoo. I reunion, uh meeting, and she sends a clerk or secretary to go buy me underwear. I had no underwear (laughing). It was quite something, very touching. I had my first taste of curry in 10 years.
CDV Never tasted so good?
SS Yeah, wow, it was divine.
CDV Did you feel free?
SS Ah, yeah there was a sense of freeness, it was a kind of, in a sense a kind of liberty; you were out of prison; you are in society; you are meeting people, where you were cut off from the world, in that sense, free. Free to talk to who you have to meet, tell your stories and they’re meeting you. It was quite emotional and a lot of excitement, it was quite dramatic, quite dramatic. Ya then, I found a way, I got a lift home, back the way I was arrested, you know, the old tin town?
SS A home of mine made of wood and iron, there an ah quite, quite a return, you know, reunion of the family; and the landlord (laughs). The landlord was still there; he had a factory making upholstery chairs; I remember my first experiment of sabotage was to burn his factory, with a stick of match (laughs).
CDV It felt good?
SS Yeah, to burn his factory before attacking the enemy. He was also the enemy.
CDV Now, you were only, before you went into Exile in Mozambique, you were only home for a short period of time, is that right ? A few months?
SS I got home 28th February or 29th, it was a leap year I think, ’74, and I was placed under house arrest; I had to report twice a week to the police station; and couldn’t work here, couldn’t work there; couldn’t enter any academic premises; printing place or factory. So many people to communicate, I had a temporary job at the medical centre in town. The first black, all black medical centre in South Africa, I repeat 1974, the first black medical centre that was opened in South Africa, in April ’74. Black in the sense, not black black because all the doctors were Indians there. Right. Not black in the general sense. All Indian doctors because there weren’t hardly any black doctors, black, just to reach there you were lucky, and in Durban area, there were mostly Indian doctors there. I worked there; I was doing bookkeeping and so forth, at that point still a political activist trying to organise the nurses and secretary’s into the unions.
CDV Did you resume contact with the MK at this time?
SS No, there was no, uh good question, there was no sort of structure I don’t believe, if there was any structure existing, I could’ve known or contact would have been made with me. I had to look around; there was period of lull; vacuum, political vacuum and because in the ‘60’s the Black Consciousness movement sprung in South Africa. But in ’73/’74 the arrests took place. The prime of the leadership was arrested so they also suffered a crippling blow. ’74, this is a pre-‘76 Soweto uprising. ’74, quite dramatic, an historical development starting to take place in Southern Africa; with the liberation of Mozambique and Angola.
SS So it had a dramatic effect on our people, right, inspiration, and I think the Soweto uprising has to be seen not in isolation in the context of the changes and how it inspired our people. Other than the problem with Afrikaans. Afrikaans was merely a spark I would think, you know, although you know it was forced upon, down the throats of the students, protest with the students. But I think people were sort of, you know, inspired, agitated and the conditions and then, you know, they feel these countries were liberated, we can do it. You know, but then they had stones, and stones and so forth and petrol bombs and so forth against the enemy’s canons, there was nothing they could do, that’s why they were mowed down, you know. The thing is that I begin to look at, I realise that I needed to do political work, and I begin to look at situations to get involved with community projects. The first levels of organising people for power to do community work and a period, level of conscientising people on issues that were affecting them immediately. I mean in the Indian townships, alright. I couldn’t work in the African townships, but mind you, I said I was placed under house arrest, so I begin to do this kind of research, what are the issues, the bread and butter politics. What the issues, the rent issues and so forth. And I created a self-help project; to get funding from business; professional people to create a kind of self-help project; I begin to create a free clinic; legal clinic; and I created a kind of clinic, where doctors could come and give free medical attention; three types of doctors: a child doctor, a gynaecologist and a GP, so I had to recruit them and go talk to doctors, and pharmacists. The pharmacist who gave full support was none other than the National Receiver of Revenue, Commissioner Pravin Gordhan. He was the one I contacted because he was a pharmacist at King Edward Hospital. He gave full support in that situation. And some progressive lawyers, so that was kind of structure created in Chatsworth.
CDV In Chatsworth.
SS Ya. The same time whilst I was doing that I began to look around how they MK were looking around when MK was formed. I began to do the same thing, to look who I could recruit for the underground. There was overt work, legal work, community work, legal clinic and so forth and at the same time to create underground structures for armed struggle. You know, I was also busy doing that. So the second man in the tax office there, I recruited, ya. The chap who is in charge, national head of investigations was a guy I recruited from the township, an Indian guy. I recruited, so …
CDV So from this, your community organising, how did it come to pass that you went into exile in Mozambique?
SS Okay, as I was under the house arrest there was section 10 clause, General Law Amendment Act, uh, where they put you out of circulation for one year, detain you. Most of them they detained you in Modderbee. If you have interviewed others they have may already told you that they were detained at Modderbee Prison in Jo’burg; Section 10; out of circulation. So I realised that, I just had the sense that the dragon was closing in on me. The enemy was active and I think they had informers behind me.
CDV You do?
SS I think I was also travelling every morning; I was living with my sister in Chatsworth and travelling by bus from Chatsworth to town. And I was travelling in the bus with a friend and this friend happened to be an informer. I did not know he was recruited and working for the Special Branch but they couldn’t pin me obviously, right you know, so but you know, I didn’t try to indulge him or recruit him. Just talking in general there, I should talk loudly; I should do agitation work in the bus so people could hear I was talking politics, issues loudly although I was placed under house arrest, I am travelling the bus you can’t accuse me of addressing a meeting. I wasn’t addressing them consciously in a organised way, I used to talk loudly for some of the passengers. You know, political education.
CDV They didn’t know what they were in for …
SS We had to find forms of teaching, issues, tackled issues that are concrete, not abstract issues you know. Transport issues or whatever.
CDV So fearing that you were going…
SS Right, my informer and my colleague …
CDV So um did you - you came to the decision that you needed to leave the country?
SS Ya, ya, I left Christmas morning.
CDV Christmas morning.
CDV And uh, were you receiving the assistance of ANC underground?
SS No, No. Ya Ya. I got assistance of ANC underground, the comrade who assisted me is no more, late, he was kidnapped in ’86. ’86 from Swaziland and killed. The comrade who took me and another colleague of mine from Natal border into Swaziland Christmas evening.
CDV Christmas evening.
SS We left Durban, they picked me up 2 in the morning. I remember telling my sister we are having the last supper.
CDV You did tell her, I read in the ..
SS She didn’t understand.
CDV She didn’t understand.
SS She didn’t understand what last supper meant [laughter].
CDV It was an illusion, I am reading some articles here about your family after you went into exile, your Mother talking, seemed very upset because you were missing at the time, so obviously you, other telling your sister that one comment, was it hard to not tell your family that you were leaving, did you feel relieved?
SS You see, you have to understand, I was detached from my family for ten years, in a sense that prison made us very hard; hard in the sense, not being less loving to fellow human beings and especially to your immediate family. I loved my Mother very much. My Mother was supportive of me all the way; even when I got out of prison she was aware that I was involved in something but she did not know what I was involved in, all she said, ‘Take care, I don’t want you to go back to Robben Island, whatever you doing, take care.” I always went back and used Ghandi as a guiding star to inculcate that kind of spirit to my Mother you know, to give her some hope, you know, in a way of conscientising her as well, on issues and so forth. She understood in her own way, she understood, uh and gave me that kind of support, that spiritual support and that, naturally any other Mother would feel scared and so forth in that situation and a lot of things changed her, from other Mothers hose loved ones were away in prison either the children or the husbands were in prison and hear how they went through life and suffering and torture and so forth. You know its that kind of fear in that uh uh, suspicion remains. But she was always very supportive, she knew people used to come meet me at home and in our house and she knew very well the laws that I wasn’t allowed visitors after six, and people used to come meet me and my contacts and so forth. She would look from the upper window and so forth and look down and say, “Be careful.”
CDV Did you have contact with your Mother and family when you were in exile?
SS No, no, in the 10 years, no. I obviously couldn’t come home to the funeral of my Mother when I was in Maputo, when I got the news that she had passed away, they knew I couldn’t come even if uh I had known when she passed away, I couldn’t come then and there, but I only knew months later after she passed away, but at one stage my brother and sister visited me with uh, my nephew and nieces. They visited me in Maputo.
CDV How did it feel to be outside of South Africa when you were living in Mozambique?
SS See, I as I said, there was quite an inspiration, the liberation of Mozambique and Angola. I remained for a short period of time in Maputo, and then I was sent to Angola for training, and then from there, Angola, I went to Germany, then month course, you know, and then I came a member of the command.
CDV The Commands.
SS The Command structure of the Natal Command based in Maputo with the Deputy President of the country.
CDV That was uh, Zuma.
SS Jacob Zuma.
CDV Zuma was the Chairperson of that structure?
SS Ya, ya
CDV How did you find the leadership?
SS Zuma’s leadership was, Zuma’s was, I must say, on Robben Island.
SS Different cells, also part of the leadership on Robben Island; a man with not much academic back round. Amazing qualities of understanding, issues, logic, you know; what he says, remarkable how he learnt so fast; it’s phenomenon; with not even a JC (Junior Certificate) education, a standard eight education; he developed an understanding he couldn’t really read or write when he was arrested; he learnt to read and write in prison, literally read and write in prison you know, in that short space of time; political and even science literature; human sciences; uh historical development of man; from man to the present day; general politics. There were very experienced scholars amongst us who understood history, and able to narrate and interprete history in a very remarkable way. We had many people like Harry Gwala, who was a very prominent person in the African National Congress, from the [Natal] Midlands, ‘Maritzburg. Zuma’s qualities of leadership grew in exile. I worked under him, who was the Chairperson and I was one of the commanders, part of the commissar, part of the political commissar. We were part of the collective and he was Chairman of the command.
CDV Did you enjoy the work you were doing in that capacity in Mozambique?
SS Well, I don’t know about enjoying. Sure we worked with the collective; it was very challenging; and after our training and so forth it was quite challenging in how we put the training we received, how we applied to our conditions. Very challenging and quite exciting, as well.
CDV Others have spoken about who was in Mozambique and Angola and about the violence perpetrated on a lot of border countries by the SADF as a way of destabalizing the ANC’s leadership outside of South Africa, was that a reality for you inyour workthat you were doing? Any experiences of bombing by the SADF?
SS See, the first bombings of Mozambique were, I think, ’80, ’81. Matola bombings, where a number of our colleague’s and comrades were killed. Senior commanders were killed, and one or two of them were very close colleagues of mine, were killed. One of them I was very close to, killed in a raid ’81 I think, January ’81.
CDV Was this the raid that Krish Rabilall was killed in?
SS I am talking about him.
CDV Could you just, we spoke with his brother and I am interested.
SS You spoke to his brother.
CDV Nandilal. Do you recall working with Krish?
SS Krish did not work directly uh, during the period with my command because he came out of the country a couple of years later, but we had recruited him already, before he left country. Krish was recruited by one of the commanders who is now in the Tax office by the name of, Ivan Pillay, right. He was a very soft spoken, hardly used speak, and he was a brilliant mathematician. Excellent maths, right, uh, was highly disciplined, highly disciplined, and I think, for any amount of torture I think I would have given my life for Krish in a sense, you know, I could absolutely trust he wouldn’t speak. He was a chap with that kind of character, you know. I think he was, subsequently, in the second or third command of Natal, Krish, when he was killed.
CDV What kind of, how did the loss of losing comrades that way?
SS See, it was, just this attack and killing of senior and high quality Leadership; chaps with a lot of abilities and creative skills; and beside also academic skills; these chaps knew what they were all about and his leadership came out post the Soweto generation. Right, and Zuma and I were of the older generation, right the ’60 generation. I mean ah, ya a kind of fusion, respect for one another.
SS And there was a very strong sense of leadership and collective spirit. But this incident of the first incursions and raids that took place was raged with all this ferocity, viciousness you know, not just simply capturing anyone, but bombarding them. Just to kill and maim kind of thing, right. And it was the first kind - indeed, it was like a body blow, quite an assault to the leadership and morale. I think it would be correct to state, to be more honest and open about it, it took us some time to recover from that blow, you know, you can’t just create a leadership overnight. It takes time to create good leadership, command, commanders. It’s not just simply about taking a chap, and in a few hours in training him on how to use a AK47, anybody can do that, but a commander to give leadership, the skills of leadership, coming with values and morality takes a long time. Discipline, that takes a long time, and in that sense, you know, one must contextualise it. Say that it was a big blow to our leadership, the Matola raid.
CDV Now those attacks stepped up even into the later 80’s.
SS Ya, ya , ya, there were a few more other attacks that took place and I can’t remember when the next attacks took place, I think was ’80, ’81. January ’81. That was after Sasol refinery attack in December 1980. January the raid takes place; then the Maseru raid of ’82; then a raid on Botswana, then the subsequent attacked with airforce, jets attacked the logistics and so forth and in the process they were told to attack the base, they attacked the kindergarden and a jam factory in Maputo.
CDV With this stepping up of violence what lead to your having to leave Mozambique?
SS Very interesting uh, you say stepping of violence from South Africa; South African forces, security forces. On the contrary, on the contrary, it is just the other way round. The raids that took place; the enemy tried to kill our spirit; and destroy our networks; destroy our infiltration routes; destroy our logistics; to attack at all levels our leadership; and I mentioned our logistic routes; and kill our morale, spirit; didn’t work; didn’t work. On the contrary, the activities and actions of the army doubled, tripled in South Africa. Lets talk about Durban. Durban was described as a bomb city by the Minister Of Justice, Police and Law and Order. Bomb city. So it multiplied, the bomb attacks and so forth because now the enemy, you know, you know when you attack, you try to attack an animal, how the animal reacts. I am not saying we were animals, I am saying that the level of actions and also the level of professionalism, right, increased and improved right, and security. And also, at the same time there were high levels of infiltration by enemy forces into our ranks and command levels and so forth, right, and that was also a big setback for us, okay; but now when we were expelled because of the attacks, the pressure did mount on front line states and in particular Mozambique. And that’s why during the height of the total strategy of PW Botha, they mounted severe attack blockades and so forth; mounted operations other than using surrogate forces like MNR, or direct South Africa security forces attacks on Maputo and so forth, Mozambique, being poor with weak infrastructure and so forth, they had to, they had no choice! They had to talk to the leadership, saying this is the situation there was a common understanding reached between both leadership. We had to retreat. And I believe the retreat was a temporary retreat, and also there was a surge, a forward surge in to the forward lying areas, Swaziland and also into the country by this situation, okay? Heads began to roll in Swaziland, because Swaziland is a small country, one route, one main road, so there too was a problem, security, how much can you hide, so we also suffered there, but uh, the retreat was short lived because after - I wasn’t expelled from Maputo in the first retreat when expulsion took place so while, but interestingly we had to be creative and I became chairman of the Military Committee. I was placed as the Chairman of Military Committee in Maputo. But the more weapons infiltrated South Africa after the Accord, right. They put so many check-points and so forth. Mozambican soldiers were starving and so forth and there; you had the spirit of comradeship with South Africans and they would see us there crossing with our vehicles and so forth, you follow, they have seen our faces; you see now I’ve got a whole, you know case of weapons, AK47’s and so forth to get past; I will just give them a packet of cigarettes because the guys got no smoke and pass through borders. I go to the airport, and a whole lot of consignment of weapons coming through from Angola, give the guy a bottle of scotch, there and he passes through the whole back [of the vehicle] there, is not checked at customs. You see there are many ways.
CDV Yeah, right, um just to switch gears for a moment, um and look at the other side. You said earlier that the priority of MK was to attack state structures not at the loss of human lives and not attacking civilians. Obviously, as a part of that civilian life was lost, I am just right now thinking of the Esplanade Bombing.
SS Right, okay I knew you were going to come to that.
CDV I just wonder what you do you say to those who lost family members, um in violence that was related to ANC inspired?
SS Okay, okay, see, the whole, the 80’s period after the liberation of Mozambique and so forth, thousands of students began to leave and joined the ranks of the MK situation right and came the total strategy of the regime and the brutality of killing people in detention in South Africa. Massacring of students in Soweto and so on and so forth, with such ferocity and so forth right, no care with that situation. We had to also plan, think our own strategies and so forth; you confront the regime now. We didn’t go and put bombs in the white suburbs, to put bombs in the white suburbs or supermarkets and so forth. We didn’t send suicide bombers like you’re seeing today right, that kind of action. But we now realised we had an open warfare with the regime. There is a war going on; I think there is no apologies about that, right, because the enemy pushed us to a level, to that situation. So we are preparing at a higher level of warfare now, open engagement and where bombs going to go off like in the built up areas, built up areas where enemy’s structures were. Lets say, lets give you a concrete example, South African Military Head Quarters; or Airforce Head Quarters, in Jo’burg, Pretoria. A bomb was there; a car bomb there, when staff where coming out, airforce personal, we had war on now. At four, half past four, five o’ clock the bomb goes off, a number of airforce personnel gets killed. But in between now splinters and so forth injured civilians is the cost of the warfare. You get caught in the crossfire. The Esplanade bomb here, right here; that bomb was not mean’t for civilians. An army bus was going to pass by, army bus to pass by, so prematurely the bomb went off, prematurely, and ordinary people got caught in the cross fire, it happened to be a radio journalist’s brother and his wife, and his wife happened to be killed. A tragedy, we make our humble apologies and we did apologies before the TRC to the families right. Of course, he didn’t accept it, and I don’t blame him for not accepting it, right. You look at it in the broader context situation, if you compare our situation with a lot of other areas, other countries and situations, we had minimal deaths in this country for liberation. Again it gives, it tells you the moral security of the leadership of the liberation movement under the command of Mandelas, Oliver Tambos and so forth, we could resolve these conflicts through peaceful means with least bloodshed being spilled least, right. Indeed, some of these bombings which took place were highly emotionally-charged, you see now we were taking these bombs, warfare to the white areas; too many Blacks are dying. It was, I don’t know whether in the interest, you have to look at it at that point in time when the situation demanded it, the oppression mounted, the black - the whole lot of security forces were sent to the black townships. Shooting at random, killing children, students, right, detention, that kind of thing. So they said we will take this thing to the white areas. But you could give me one example where a white house was attacked, I don’t know of. The Amanzimtoti bombing of Zondi, Zondo, Andrew Zondo; there was his response, it was emotional, it wasn’t a command, to the best of my knowledge. A command came from Lusaka or Maputo situation; this chap who handled Zondo, who is late now, executed; he responded to the spur of the moment, desperate to look for a target right there. Following Maseru attack where our people were killed, he responds, and he goes and puts a bomb at a ice-cream place, where ice-creams are sold situation, in a dirt bin or something. I think people were injured and killed, one or two. I don’t know exactly, I can’t remember. Right, situation. Very isolated incident. No where in our minutes of the Military Committee, Head Office of PMC was there anywhere seen an agenda where this should have been targeted, exactly even like the bar, the Magoo’s bar. Magoo’s Bar bombing, Robert McBride, come on, Magoo’s Bar was frequently used by Army Officers. Army officers used to frequent the bar. In that situation, okay, situation. Like how, how the IRA was targeting British officers and so forth, targeting. I’m just give you an example, they’re looking, they’re always on intelligence reconnaissance; checking; so I think right, in the McBride bombing was checked, obviously must have scouted the area, how many officers, hey, visited. And that bomb went off in that situation, unfortunately again there were some innocent lives lost. If you put it there, the balance, how many whites died, how many blacks died. Its like, I think zero, zero in the figures of that situation. Interesting, my opening remarks [to you] when I joined MK, we were warned time and again, never to take human life. Always check your point and double check it, take an example, we were going to blow up an office of an Indian puppet agent, was a stooge of the apartheid regime, was a business man in Durban, an office, right.
SS It was a grotty place as well, not a built up modern building or office, it was symbolic, symbolic right to attack his office. But we were disturbed by the security guard there, Sunday evening, early part of the evening, so what do we do now, we are youth - adventure. Not mature, I am just telling you of the implications, the wider implications. Whether it will rebound on the leadership of the ANC and so forth, we decided we must carry out an attack. What we did, we went and booked tickets on the train, the same bomb, petrol bomb, we put in a passenger train but that wasn’t our mission, we weren’t told to do that. It wasn’t supposed to be our target. And we were serious, fortunately the bomb did not go off, fortunately there was some technical defect, it didn’t go off, but that was terrorism. Today it would be described as terrorism.
CDV I am going to stop before the tape does before we continue. SIDE 3
CDV Were you prepared to die for the cause you were fighting for?
SS Yah, earlier on we were told when we were recruited in MK, the implications and repercussions. One was not so mature then, ’61/’62. You don’t understand the full implications, and like the situation when you ask me that question at that stage we were so emotionally charged in the situation you can even be dead whilst placing the bomb if there’s a technical problem – we almost died once when we tried to experiment with the bomb in some valley on the outskirts of Durban. We were prepared to take that kind of a risk situation right, but prepared to die, or be sentenced to death, or executed by the police or shot and so forth and that kind of thing didn’t occur; that kind of thing didn’t come to mind to you. It came in all periods of development, a level of consciousness developing. When I got out of prison and got to exile, one became a bit more mellowed; understanding, understanding the full implications really, then I could answer you, yes we were prepared to go all the way, inspite, even if it was death, whether it was crossing the frontier or somewhere and going to Swaziland or somewhere. I never arrived – entered South Africa when I was in exile on any mission, because you were crossing visiting often Swaziland. Or a number of missions, two, three times a month into Swaziland, I’ve been to Lesotho, on a passport, a false passport, flew over South Africa to Lesotho, anything could have happened, so we were prepared to go the full course.
CDV Um, lets speed up a bit just so that we can cover the last years of your exile. After Mozambique, you shortly thereafter were sent to Holland. Is that correct?
CDV Okay, and what were you doing when you were in Holland?
SS I was the ANC Representative in Holland for about plus minus four years.
CDV Four years?
SS Yah, four years from ’88.
CDV How was that different from, the work you were doing in Holland, what were the differences from your experience in Mozambique and was that a difficult transition in the differences?
SS Ah, the African National Congress or any political movement, a Liberation movement is prepared its cadres, it’s members, its frontline people, politically. If you are not prepared politically and mature and then it is difficult to handle other situations, right, it is not simply technical or a beaurocrat or in the situation, fortunately for us, myself I had the kind of exposure going through a political resistance phase which was kind of law of development of me as an individual right. I told you of the earlier level of political development, treason, trial and trial, Youth Congress member and so forth right and then joined the Senior body and then joined the ANC. I couldn’t, as I said, become a African National Congress member, the African Congress was banned. But the Indian Congress was not banned; it was still a legal body but the MKor the military wing of the ANC was banned as well. Through joined, so that was another area terrain of struggle situation. Then the prison, one mellowed in prison, the politics, the lectures, the reading and the engaged workshop situations, then come out of prison, the situation here. The dynamics are totally different then again in the form of political struggle, but a different form of political struggle in conscientising people, finding creative ways in forms of struggle. Then underground. Both at overt level, legal form and also underground they recruited exiles, training and then MK joined the political wing. I left the military for a while which I didn’t mention, I joined the political wing, but political wing was not simply as propaganda but organizing political structures, propaganda are units, so when in the rural area or in the urban areas there are Trade Union students and so forth, so when you have your army elements coming in MK guys so your conditions are prepared by the political forces. So that it is another high form struggle for the political wing of ANC, which is clandestine, to our situation, that was another level of development, so when I was expelled and the leadership said I must go and take the post or run the information department or ANC mission in Holland, so I was already understanding the dynamics and politics of the ANC and the programs and so forth. It wasn’t very difficult, and now I was an avid reader just thank God for that, which I developed from prison of reading and researching and so forth. So when the radio guys came and TV guys came to interview me, it wasn’t a torture; I was prepared for them; I read because I was prepared and I had that kind of upbringing and development in all I had to go and read certain things on issues that they may ask me so I was ready for that kind of thing, but not because of the ego or anything because that was a year of development prepared by the organization. And my own individuality, and in that sense so it was another kind of challenge going and addressing solidarity meetings, publicly now. As a public speaker, appearing on TV and debates, issues and radio programs and organizing anti-apartheid groups in the Dutch villages. Dutch villagers, quite remarkable for a new kind of terrain or career also a learning process for me.
CDV How did you find the support of the international community when you were living there?
SS I think it became a very important arm of struggle for the ANC in terms of isolating the regime in South Africa and Holland was one of the very strong anti apartheid movements developed, and because I think fortunately for the Dutch experience, of their country being occupied by Nazi Germany during the Second World War, although the differences are not the same but they realized that the tyranny and atrocities committed by the regime, apartheid regime against the people and that is why the Dutch felt guilty and they lent their support and that kind of thing, and from the Christian community, Dutch Christian community, divided along Catholic and Protestant lines, the Dutch Reformed Church and so forth, you know, Calvanists, you know, and I had tremendous support and the youth and trade unions. There was a big bridge named after Mandela, Resistance Bridge - a number of towns, Biko, named after Biko, and Mandela and so forth – hundreds. Even a Dutch flower, the Tulip, a new breed of tulip, quite amazing, amazing.
CDV It is amazing. Did you miss South Africa still when you were abroad, at all?
SS Ya, that is why we were fighting all out, to get back soon.
CDV So you came back in 1991, right?
SS 1991? Yeah.
CDV Okay, how did you feel?
SS 1991 I returned…
CDV How did you feel when you watched that speech that de Klerk gave when he finely unbanned the ANC?
SS Well I felt that it was quite historic in its own setting, and of course we can give reasons why this thing had to take place, there was no choice left in that sense, the unbanning and the release of Mandela, the 11th of February or something like that, 1990 you, know. There was tremendous joy and celebrations in Holland and TV and the office, ANC office. It was crazy there, the excitement and so forth you know lots of champagne and roses, and flowers and the most moving experience for me was Mandela’s visit to Holland.
CDV Ah ha.
SS He met the Dutch Government and the next morning the Queen, and then his address at The Square, 16th June.
CDV You were there?
SS Yes, 20 thousand Dutch people gathered, 20 thousand quite a, quite a moving experience, quite traumatic and of course Mandela being there, present, and the Wembly Concert that took place and all there superstars performing. I didn’t go to that concert but did we have tickets, I said no I will have my own little Wembly. We organised a big screen and we had about, I don’t know, about 10 thousand people in the Square watched the whole thing coming live from Wembly to Amsterdam.
CDV Wow! What was the return like, to come back to South Africa in 1991?
SS It was quite moving I would say, quite moving quite, you know, that after all these years of suffering in exile, prison paid off, finally.
CDV You felt vindication?
SS Yeah you know.
CSV Yeah, did you play role in the Codesa talks.
SS Uh, in a very small way. You see the Codesa talks were composed of a number of parties, each one had its alliances; the ANC had its alliances; I was part of a team of the Natal Indian Congress, which is a part of the alliance of the ANC, one of the groups, ya.
CDV Just another question on your employment. You say you now have been working for the police and I find that interesting, particularly having been on the wrong side of the law, Quote un Quote, for so long what it feels like now to be a part of it.
SS See I think, it is not a shock in a sense, because we took political power for certain organs, repressive organs, of the old state were still in place. We needed to democratize those institutions and the only way we could democratize institutions that were repressive powers of the state, old state, apartheid racist state, you needed to – the organization had to send is own members, right, to put them in strategic positions you know, be they in the Judiciary, in Intelligence services, the Armed Forces and the Police to turn them, those organisations or institutions around; not necessarily to become agents of the African Nation Congress but to become democratic institutions without any political bais; become proper servants of the state, the new found democratic state; and I think, in that context or sense, we all, and myself included, we have an important role to play to to in that transition to democracy and to to to sort of liberalise and democratise institutions by not to go and say you must go put on a ANC badge or put on a badge of Mandela but change their racial ideology of the very person to work like any other police officer in other parts of the world; in the western democracy or any democracy, they work for the state right, not work for a system, any political system, they work for the law and order, to be a law-abiding officer. You are earning, paid by the government to do your job without any prejudice or ill- feelings and the thing is that it is a very complex process, very complicated, and you can’t overnight, even in five ten years, you can change peoples mind around if they were indoctrinated from childhood with apartheid ideology and the things is there is such resistance at this situation and the changes that were taking place now towards transforming the whole state, the army, the police services the whole security, of the intelligence because you see the crime in this country situation and you watch the command, police command in my case and what the officers all able bodied servicemen do their work. If there is a kind of resistance, why is there resistance, why is there resistance, you know because you are getting your housing subsidy, you’re getting your medical aid, you’re getting your salary and all those kind of things so why there’s no work going on, you know. But at the same time, we are not stopping, saying that when election come it is his or her right which party they serve, their democratic right but when you are in the service, you don’t come with any political agenda, you know.
SS Right, you know its quite the quite a transition, in any transition, and South Africa, especially, very delicate, very delicate, you know.
CDV Do you find as one who is so personally involved in giving your, sharing your life with the struggle and identifying with the ANC, do you find it hard now as a ruling party to be critical?
SS Just explain. Maybe you can explain, explain a little bit more what you mean?
CDV I am interested, before we turn to some questions I have particularly relating to South Africa, post 1994, um, if you find and I am thinking of a lot of International Press, for example, that talks about ANC stance on AIDS and a variety of other issues. Do you find it difficult to be critical of the party of the movement that you were a part of for so long or do you feel that the ANC is stronger for being part of an entrenched democracy and having the ability to disagree without repercussion.
SS I understand your question; I know where you are getting to. See, we were trained and tempered and inculcated with a sense of value and it would be wrong and hypocritical to say that a leader or a person developed in a vacuum. You cannot develop in a vacuum. You develop as a result of a sense of purpose where there is something there. And something there what is there is a organization. Organization of people, organization of the history, and tried and tested history situation. Having said that, any organization is made of human beings, leaders, right. Like a human being, it is - you can live for so long, after awhile you, you disappear from this world, hey, right. Similarly an organization is made of human beings; as far as I am concerned, and what I understand; what I’ve read; what I exposure I’ve had over the last forty years, forty six years of this struggle from my youth, tender youth to now is: history is full of examples. I don’t want to beat around the bush. Human beings make mistakes, no human being can say that they are infallible in that situation. So if you say that when there is an iron of a dictatorship develops, where authority become centralized, there is no room for debate, discussion and criticism that that kind of organization calls a short life span. And I think, there I can’t see, and this is my personal opinion, I can’t see a better, for me there couldn’t be a better example than the Soviet block. You know, we never see the birth of the those republics of the socialist system against the capitalist system; another system, alternate system came to play for first time in history of humanity a ne system developed against another social force, capitalist force, but because of dynamics the way human beings, the kind of tools they use to be in power and the process gets corrupted right, didn’t allow schools other schools of thought to develop, where democracy was stunted and developed right, and power became too centralized and we saw that the power did not last for long. Seventy to eighty years and it collapsed and the reasons are there. Right, they get to a point here, that I think firstly, on a positive note, I come from an organization that has such rich history of tradition and resistance, and it is unmatched and unparelled in Africa.
I don’t want to say anywhere else in the history, in the world, but first in Africa. A person like Mandela, who at the age of eighty three, who still has such sanity and to come from that school, but having said that, just saying that leaders cannot make mistakes in that situation that I can absolutely say absolute power for an absolute rule for ANC depending on whole lot of factors and forces at play. If you make blunders you will lose support; that’s the law; anywhere else you see that; anywhere in the world. If you make mistakes, if you don’t deliver your goods and so forth, you lose support on bread and butter issues, on national issues situation, right. Now getting to your point, very controversial issue the AIDS debate, took long, took to much resources, time and energy and I think this country is blessed - you know we’ve got the infrastructure, highly-developed infrastructure with able-bodied, highly-respected scientists, which are internationally respected and so forth.
My own view is that I think that I have the deepest respect for our President of this country, who is also the President for the Africa National Congress; he is a genius in his own right, you know. I think, intellectually, you know. The NEPAD thing and the African Renaissance I think a lot of people don’t even understand the African Renaissance and contextualise properly, maybe, we are, ourselves in the movement have got a problem of simply finding it and taking it to the ordinary people; and also to the other racial groups of understanding, because there is a perception African Renaissance is Africanist, only for the African people and I do disagree with that, but it needs to be properly explained in simple terms through your electronic media and TV media, press and workshops, I think personally on the AIDS issue we have able-bodied people like Professor Magoba and so forth, the President, said you’ve got a team there let them decide, take advise from those people. This is my opinion, I think.
CDV Lets talk about another political issue, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I’m curious if you made a statement to the TRC.
SS I didn’t make a statement.
CDV You didn’t. Did you ever think about it?
SS Ah, no there was no need for me to go to make a statement because I spent my time in prison; I’d served my time; I was punishing in the eyes of the old system, the situation, and there was no need there. I went to the TRC in the sense that where another guy was testifying from the military intelligence to say that we were targets then, after Nkomati Accord, March ’84, we were targeted to be killed in Maputo, including the Deputy President Zuma, so forth and that’s only time. George Bizos was appearing for us there, and that’s the only time, but I was not called to make any statement or anything else. Ya.
CDV Did you ever consider making a statement; others had spoken about their assault, torture, um under apartheid to the Human Rights Committee, did you ever consider?
SS I, ah did not indicate to I uh because I thought there were more deserving cases that were much more; and many many more who deserved going there for reparation or there and especially from the regime side, had carried out such atrocities and so forth militarily, and many did not go forward and in that sense I think the TRC had its own limitations, it had its positive features, indeed where people who came out; we wouldn’t have known the South African public, the country wouldn’t have known; you know people like Eugene De Kock and many others who carried out these atrocities and the next of kin wouldn’t have known who killed there loved ones and those are the positive sides of it, but it also had its shortcomings.
CDV The TRC essentially held both the anti apartheid fighters and apartheid government to the same moral standard when they assessed Human Rights Violations, so essentially they found culpability on both sides. Do you have any objection to that, when you speak about, knowing that you were on the side of the just cause to then have the misdeeds or violations that occurred via the ANC or any other liberation movement on par with the National Party.
SS You see, you see it is a sad in many ways; it is very sad and tragic and we cannot linger on; we can not just go on grousing; but of course, yes there is a thing like forgiveness. Forgiveness also has its own problems because the Mother there, the Father there the husband there, the wife there, they lost the dearest one. You can’t take that away from them, I still remember that; and still I am not too sure if they’ll forgive whoever carried it out. The other side will say the same thing as well; the other side say but there is no way to make this judgement; moral judgement is easy. We are coming from a highly emotionally charged history here; institutionalized repression - it was unparalleled anywhere, unparalleled, South African instutionalised oppression, and the humiliation and social degregation and death, death, denying people basic human rights, denying people land and all the other things that come out of land. That was itself a torture and a death. People died over the years; forced resettlement without physical brutality; just institutional from 1948, the very harsh apartheid laws. You know, I am not even talking about detentions and so forth; the harsh conditions in the farms our slave labour; and just general conditions against the black people, how in terms of basic things like water, not given provided; and the areas where they could not even plough the fields, there was no water, just dry lands, that was a form of death. The person who survived to forty five / fifty was lucky to be here and that kind of thing. Coupled with that, brutal physical repression with the security forces. Highly vamped up, very sophisticated with naked repression and aggression in front line states, now all these people must be forgiven, forgiven, in this situation, now I think those people and that is why you see it is difficult even some form of leadership and the democratic formation for them to grapple with that; to reconcile that. You know Tutus of this world can get out there and so forth we can understand okay, but please I am talking lets look at the real life, the human misery and torment the apartheid took.
In terms of the other side, the suffering is miniscule, is nothing if you compare now the other areas where there was death and destruction and so forth right, I’m talking more in the South African sense, but then, fortunately, we had leaders in this country with wisdom, right, who say enough is enough, because if you wait another two or three years there will be a blood bath in this country; a blood bath with untold - and I am sure in the process a lot of blacks would have died as well.
SS But it would also have saved them to take a relatively numerical strength of the whites you know as compared with the black, more whites could have died as well. More whites could have died. Tragic, thousands of whites could have packed their bags and left the country.What is the future of this country? I think all the factors and leadership took into account and that is why there are talks about talks to issue and the thing about reconciliation, right, and unity and the government of reconciliation and the Government of National Unity developed okay, kind of thing. I think one has to see it in that kind of spirit situation right. That’s how I see it.
CDV When you speak of forgiveness, do you know of any person who, people assaulted when you were in detention, when you were on Robben Island that applied for amnesty?
SS No, no, no warders, no warders, no warders.
CDV No warders, um hmm.
SS No warders, no warders, no. A very interesting question, interesting that surely even the other side, those were incarcerated didn’t go out in search and bring the name to the TRC with this question what treatment was meted out against many fellow prisoners. Again it shows you that even that the other side were prepared to forgive. No way did it occur to me that one day I must hunt down a particular warder, it never occurred to me because I look at the bigger picture. I looked at the picture of the children’s future in this country, those developing in this country move forward, to become an example to the rest of humanity – I think.
CDV Why do you think that the people of South Africa were able to recognise that, too?
CDV What you were saying, the ability to realise the bigger picture and not feel a vengeance against whoever attacked you, um, that seems to be what people through-out the country say and looking at post apartheid, what do you attribute that ability, that willingness to see the bigger picture to?
SS I think by and large, by and large, where we come from; the whole process of development where are today is because of those forces leading its people and this country through change, because they are beginning to see the bigger picture. You can see the bigger picture and that is why they were prepared to forgive; to move forward , to move forward. Unfortunately, talking about that it is sad, its sad that the whites in this country till now - I am not talking about only those from the apartheid regime, generally they don’t seem to see the bigger picture; its all about selfishness. You want to have the cake and still to eat it. Would you agree with me today this country with the gates opening now the more white millionaires here than before. I would say so because there are more market forces because of the sanctions and so forth every loan shark we find that more guys have developed here in the country because there is a scope situation. I don’t have a problem with that, I don’t have a problem with a guy driving a Mercedes, a BMW, but that is not the end of it, think of the other one as well, think about children’s future. They are not thinking about the children’s future. So you have to see also what is going. Those students marching in Jo’burg, I don’t agree with that march, the ways it’s done, COSAS, and the University that gives you the signal what’s tomorrow to come? So those are signals I am not agreeing with that. I think the leadership and their respective level of command in the ministry and government has to find a proper way of dealing with this situation you see, because that is another kind of ungovernability situation but also to examine whilst you are dealing with it simultaneously you need a due process. You have to deal with the cure, causes of that, and try to cure that. Causes of that, why this is fucked up. Is it just simply about agent provocateurs or there are serious problems at other places of learning, tertiary education, universities and so forth. I think that you have to see that as well, people writing a whole lot of other things there in store for us.
CDV Do you think that the ANC’s perceived retreat on, this is my last question on the TRC, um on the issue of reparations. People believe that what was paid out was much less than what was recommended it’s unclear as to when more money would be coming. What kind of effect do you think that has? Do you think it is minimal, do you think it impacts on the TRC’s creditability? Or on the ANC’s?
SS The reparations?
CDV Yeah the reparations.
SS I don’t know. You see I haven’t following that very closely, right. Not that I am being insensitive to it. I think there are a lot of other things like welfare, general welfare like anywhere else in the world, like social benefits, people are getting - every year increase, this year there been an increase for child support and there is also special pensions given out to - special pension fund for those who have been involved in the struggle for change in this country, from liberation movements, from different liberation movements. Now getting to your question on reparations, now the TRC says it is too little, too little that is what you are saying, too little?
SS I don’t know because the thing is that the response of the government, the thing is that its capacity, where you have to find the money from somewhere. I don’t think to a sense that the government is showing insensitivity or trying to rebuff the TRC or something, I don’t think so. It won’t make sense to me. It won’t make sense to me because the ruling party which is the government, there are members from the ruling party that need reparations as well.
SS Ya, you follow, me neither, hundreds and thousands also have gone through this process of reparations; at least in the Eastern Cape in particular, it won’t make sense to me and I don’t believe the government is insensitive to that situation, possibly there are other problems, I don’t know what other problems and possibly one may be the capacity and then your question might throw the question back, but the government has got 40 billion for arms, or 60 billion for arms.
CDV You took the words out of my mouth.
SS That was next the question. I knew it was going to come.
CDV Make you play guessing games. Just a few more questions. I am thinking you had ten years in prison and then you were fifteen years in exile away from your country, I wonder if you think of them…
SS Tom, just get some water for me, please. Lady Just coming to ask you. I didn’t want to disturb you.
SS You want some tea or something, tea?
CDV Water would be great, thank you. Um you were ten years in prison and then you were fifteen years in exile away from your country, I wonder was one harder to bear than the other. Do you see them that way?
SS No, No.
CDV No, you don’t see them that way?
SS No, I think without a chip on my shoulder, I repeat without any ego, you’re sitting here, I don’t know your background. You know my background and furthermore you have got it taped.
CDV Yours is much more interesting than mine.
SS No! No! Never say that, you got it taped and I look at your eyes now, whenI look at your eyes, through your eyes, you can see I don’t have an ego. But I think I have come out a better human being. I would never have been a better human being if I hadn’t been through that process. I am more loving to people; I don’t have any element of discrimination of any colour in this country. I think that whole process and my own individuality, my own personality, other than the ANC, I’ve got my own character and I am very proud of that, you know, I’ve got my own mind and I am disciplined and I, through a I have seen a full life, a full life.
CDV There are things you would have to sacrifice for this cause and what do you think was the hardest thing you had to had to sacrifice the most.
SS Yeah, you see I didn’t have much to offer in education, right formal education. I am not bitter about that, not bitter about that because I am not one to hang a certificate on a wall. I am not that type of character. The literature I read on Robben Island, I think very few have read the kind of literature I read there, because I had ways of smuggling literature to universities and I told you I was in charge of newspapers and so forth and also same thing in exile with the reporting I am not bitter that I lost part of that formal education and so forth. Okay yes my youth group, my frame that frame yes my 23/33, prime of my youth, that time of my youth right you know yeah my youth but then I made up for other things there whilst I was there I developed. I wasn’t operating in a vacuum and not many youth had that kind of exposure at that point in time, exposure, and it was a privilege, a privilege. You know and of course not saying that there was no suffering during that period. It was a whole process of development of the individual and others who were there with us.
CDV Did you think that you would see the end of apartheid in your lifetime?
SS Ya, Ya.
CDV You did?
SS Ya, Ya, I mean in the beginning I told you when we were sentenced we were not shocked or depressed we thought we would be out before ten years. I thought we would be out before five years.
CDV There was…
SS Ya, Ya, Ya because we were sure we’d fight a just cause, a noble cause, we had the world community behind us, you know, the situation.
CDV Did the fact that it took longer than you thought it would because…
SS Ya it took longer, ya but in the process also we understood we Developed as well, our consciousness development, we realized it was not so easy as we had predicted.
SS That’s the situation.
CDV What did the end of apartheid mean for you?
SS I think it was quite dramatic and was only fair to say it was very emotional and exciting in terms of the change. It’s wrong to say there wasn’t a change, it was quite a big change in unbanning the movements and then the democracy in this country now in that sense it was quite dramatic and historical. You know it gives one a sense of full pride, but I think at the same time one mustn’t get carried away. There hasn’t been a full change in this country yet. In the sense, that there hasn’t been a full transformation. If you were listening earlier I was talking about the state, transformation of the state.
SS If you haven’t transformed the state you cannot protect democracy. Democracy will be still in danger; liberty will be still in danger. If you have a state in its present form situation, you need to turn the State around, totally democratise the state, in a sense. Oh yeah, you know, all elements there. That’s going to take a long time, but also coupled with that another process we set. You know our opening preamble of the Freedom Charter: “the land shall belong to those people till it; and in South Africa belongs to all those who live in it; black and white shall share in the countries wealth.” I don’t think we have all shared in the country’s wealth because only a few are sharing in it, because in the world of globalization problem, it becomes even worse, you know what I am talking about?
SS It’s a very complex process we are, at the moment, in. That is why you see such poverty in this country hey, naked poverty, people homeless in the winter. It’s winter now; some places in the country have got minus temperatures, can you imagine? I’m talking about people who don’t have any warm clothing, thousands; squatters; those in the street, the children for one. You know, so it is a long road still ahead of us? For me, yes, liberation is important, big change, I must say yes. But at the same time, it’s not a full liberation. Yes we are in a democracy with a black President; a national anthem. We have other things, we have a constitution; parliament; processes there and so forth, but the social change?
CDV Still waiting.
SS The health sector, because look at the number of people dying of AIDS in this country. I don’t know and homes and jobs and unemployment. This is to be addressed still.
SS Ya, and I say that the rich is getting richer; and I look at the ferries bringing in hundreds and hundreds of cars every week, cars, and I think where’s these cars goes? And at the same time there’s more houses being built and more cars coming in, then there is more security coming in.
CDV Hmm, Do you feel hopeful about the future?
SS Aah, Hopeful? I think it is only fair to say we are going to have our Problems; I think we are on the right course, the right course.
CDV Sonny, thank you so much. Is there anything you’d like to say that I didn’t ask?
SS Aah, you came well prepared, and I can see you were full of
CDV All right, I’ll stop
SS You got tired there, yourself.
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