UNIVERSITY OF DURBAN‑WESTVILLE
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
"VOICES OF RESISTANCE"
INTERVIEWEE: SUBBIAH MOODLEY
INTERVIEWER: VINO REDDY
DATE: WEDNESDAY 3 JULY 2002
PLACE: SHANNON DRIVE
VR: Good afternoon. My name is Vino Reddy. On behalf of the Documentation Centre of the University of Durban, Westville, we welcome Mr Subbiah Moodley.
SM: Thank you.
VR: Mr Moodley, we would like to go back a little, talk about your days as a young child. The family you grew up in, your grandparents, your parents. Can you tell us a little bit about that, please.
SM: Yes. I was born in Umgeni Road on the 23rd of February 1944 while the war was still on, the Second World War, and we lived in a complex in Umgeni Road. It had one entrance and a number of houses at the back, and we had sort of a communal type of living, you know, with all the people. My father was a waiter at the Durban Club and my mother stayed at home as normal with most Indian women during that time. And it was quite an enjoyable occasion, quite an enjoyable life during my youth. I was given a lot of freedom in certain ways but restricted in certain other ways. In other words we were taught what was right and what was wrong, and we were punished if we had done it. I used to go to kindergarten school at Gandhi School; it was just across the road from there. Now, where we lived is exactly where the Station is, where the Station is today. And that property was owned Popatlal Kara, and he had a number of these complexes around the area ‑ you know, for people like us that rented and stayed there, and annually, I remember he used to have their prayer thing for Lord Shiva, and he used to give all the people there a treat, you know, during that time ‑ some vegetable beriyani ‑ and it was such an occasion. It is like Divali, you know. And from there we moved to Wills Road, which was a more convenient for my father to get to work and back. It was very convenient for us to get to the morning market, you know, and all the central shopping centres. When we reached Wills Road, I schooled at Centenary High, a Centenary Road School, that is where the present... situated where the present bus rank is in Warwick Avenue, and it's next to the Fire Station. And I started there.
I remember when I first went there my Dad left me all alone and I was a little toddler, then I started to cry. I was left all alone and then eventually I stopped crying and then my, one of my uncles came and fetched me from school, you know.
SM: And then while I was in class - well I was not a very keen student in Class 1 and Class 2. In fact, I used to come at the bottom of the Class with both instances. The schoolwork never appealed to me during that time. It was during Standard 1 that I started getting interested in schoolwork and from the bottom of the Class I came out first after that, and ever since that time right up to what they called the PSC, you know, the Standard 6 examination, I excelled, ademically. If you ask me what is the reason for that, I do not know. It is perhaps the teachers that made an impact on me or got me interested to do work. And I was a very, very mischievous bloke always playing pranks on people and so forth, and I liked outdoor activities, you know, my sport. I participated in football for the school. I participated in cricket. Unfortunately they did not have swimming, which is a factor, which is now my passion.
SM: I passed the Standard 6 exams, which was during that time, very, very important. And we used to live in Wills Road. It was opposite Wills Court, during that time, and we had many friends, like Srini Moodley used to pop around, Omar Badsha used to pop around our place; then also we have George Poonan was also in the flat. And generally, Wills Road we had a mixture of people. We had African people living there, white people living together, Coloured people living and Indian people. In fact, it was such a merry mix in that road; we all enjoyed each other's company. In fact when it was Christmas we got presents from the Christian people. When it was Divali we gave presents to everybody else. And it was such a loving and harmonious community, and it's such a beautiful street because I ‑ on the pavements, that is on the street, there was the flamboyant trees that used to grow on either side of the pavement and form an umbrella across. It was such a beautiful sight and I enjoyed many, many wonderful and happy days in that area. And from there also it was very easy to get to the Durban Harbour, the Bay, where we swam regularly with some of our friends. We used to cut across Albert Park, get across the train lines and we'd never dare using the subway because it was very, very untidy and filthy and, you know, you'd probably get way laid; there is a lot of criminals hanging around there. So we used to, where Irvin & Johnson is now, we used to swim in a small area there and then sometimes we used to duck Tamil school and go there in the afternoon and then come back, without my mother knowing. But the thing is that when we got home my Mum thought that we learnt our work, you know, with the cane. And, can we just stop there now? Can we pause?
VR: Yes certainly.
TAPE SWITCHED OFF ‑ ON RESUMPTION
VR: We are back again. Subbiah, can we go back a little bit, to your grandparents. Do you have any recollection of them?
SM: Yes, as far as - this is gathering from my Mum, my Mum's father and mother. My maternal grandmother came from Andhra Pradesh; my grandfather came from Madras, and I believe that both eloped and came to South Africa. You know, that was a common thing said during those days, and my granny was a real strict disciplinarian. She stood no nonsense with you.
The girls were not supposed to talk to the boys and even if they looked at boys she scolded them, you know, and everything had to be spotlessly clean. If somebody smoked and left ashes in the ashtrays she would reprimand them, and her daughters had to do the housework. And it was ‑ one of my Aunties learnt music. Her name was Meenakshi, and she learnt under Mr NC Naidoo, who became one the leading musicians in South Africa; and even to let her go out to learn music was a great effort for my granny, because she believed that the girls had to stay at home and get married and then leave home. You know, education didn't play a very vital role during that time. Whereas, on the other hand, my grandfather was a very liberal man. He was, you know, for education. It was ttrough his prodding that they sent the girls to school and to get higher education. They had four daughters and one son, and all of them, through my ‑ because of my grandfather, had a good education and made some headway in life.
With my paternal grandfather, they also came from India. They came from the State of Madras together and my grandfather had a knowledge of electricity, you know, he gave classes in electrics at the sugar mill at Mount Edgecombe. And most of his life he worked in Mount Edgecombe. If we needed anything to be done electrically my grandfather would come down, wire the place and do things for us. And he was a funny old man. At one time he would be very friendly and the next time he was very strict and you did not know where to draw a line with my grandfather. My granny was a very jovial woman, worked hard, and liked to cook food and give everybody, you know, that type of thing. She enjoyed cooking and she welcomed compliments on her cooking.
So we had a life where we used to go to the market, buy the meat, buy the chicken, cut the chicken and clean them up, and, you know, weekends that was the type of living that we underwent. And as my Dad ‑ my Dad worked at the Durban Club and he worked late in the night. Walked from work, back from work to home and then left around about ten o'clock in the morning, back to work, and we hardly saw my Dad. Even weekends he used to work and, you know, our relationship with my Dad was not very, very close, I must admit. But we did have like deep feelings for each other, you know, like to tell you I've never seen ‑ if somebody gets sick, I've never seen my Dad in my life lying in a bed suffering from flu, or staying away from work. No matter how ill he was he never showed it to anybody. He just went to work and came back. He was a real work‑horse, you know, and when he died of heart attack I could not even believe it, you know.
VR: How old were you at that time?
SM: I was ‑ at that time I was about 35 years old. During that time, I was about 35. And I was shocked because he was so fit, you know, and this happened all of a sudden. It really, it really wrecked my mother also because she never could, you know, think of a life without my father, and from that day that he died you could see ‑ my mother who was so fit, lively, joyful, you could see her deteriorating in health although we tried to give her most of our attention and love. In fact in Port Shepstone we had a place built for my father and mother to come and retire, and it so happened, so unfortunate, that before he came there he had to pass away, you know.
SM: Then my mother could not take it, because I think they were a very, very loving couple. So she decided, you know she gradually, you know, lost her health. I think it was more, not only her health, the will to live, you know, and even when her grandchildren came she was happy around them and they could see her. And then when she is alone, she gets sad again; and then when she passed away in 1994 she passed away, we could have like sort of expected the thing, you know, because you could see my mother was, you know, like a lot of people who knew my mother could say, "hey, is this the same woman?" They said, "no it is not the same woman." But I could tell like how my mother used to take the cane and whack us with such, you know, vigour, to take the devil out of us, you know.
VR: Aha, aha.
SM: But you couldn't believe that my mother ever was so lively and you know, forthright. She went to a party in those days, very quiet and humble; there never was a woman like that.
VR: You say your Mum died in '94?
VR: Was she able to cast her vote in our new democracy before she passed on?
SM: Yes, she did. But I do not know whom she voted
for. I never could get that out of her.[Laughs]
VR: Oh, that was her choice.
SM: Yes, yes, that is so.
VR: Let us get back to your education. You said that you took your Standard 6 at, was it Centenary Road School?
VR: And what happened after that?
SM: Then from there it was a natural course to proceed to Sastri College. And when I went there on the first day for enrolment, I remember I was with my Dad, and the first time I saw Dr AD Lazarus, there on the podium and, you know, it was normal then, during that time, the cream of the students went to Sastri College, and so I stand in the queue and Dr Lazarus went on, you know, with all the different names, you know, all the top students ‑ the one's that had six A's were first and so forth, and then eventually my name was mentioned. They gave me eventually a notice that I got accepted. I had four A's and two B's in my Standard 6 exam. So now I did standard tests to get in this College. A lot of the guys had six A's and five A's, you know, getting into Sastri College. And then really, during that time I was really getting to enjoy education because there were such lovely libraries; donated by others ‑ the books in the library. There was a set of Encyclopedia Brittanica donated by the American Consulate and there was also a telescope run by Dr MB Naidoo and we were members of the Astronomical Society. We had a good Debating Society of which I was a member. We had the football club. We had a cricket club. So life was now... My interest started, you know, wandering more and more and the students there were lively, energetic, intelligent and this is when you could feel, you know, you get the feeling of politicisation. There were very, very highly politicised students in Sastri College. You know, we had a group... The group of students who I associated with, they were very forthright about, you know, the discrimination in the society that had existed and yes, it was at one of these meetings with the students that invited me to the Natal Indian Congress and the Natal Indian Youth Congress. And then I used to - [interruption]
VR: Do you remember...[pardon], do you remember who this was?
SM: This was Arvin Desai.
SM: But I believe he has now passed away. He used to live in Lorne Street and he would... he used to also visit Advocate MD Naidoo, who married Phyllis; and we used to write ‑ I mean, finish at the school first and then eventually I became the Chairman of the Science Committee in Sastri College.
SM: And then we had Laboratories and I used to do Science, Mathematics, Latin ‑ that was completely new to us, under MS Naidoo; and at the beginning I never used to like Latin and used to say what is the use of this language, but eventually it had its' advantages because the root of the English ‑ a lot of English words come from Latin. And I was beginning to understand the language, and then we had History, Geography and English. And now you ‑ we were on a proper intellectual level, you know, at the school because we had freedom of thought, I mean your thought was not restricted. The teachers were devoted. They were sincere. They encouraged whatever free spirit you had in you to, you know, to express yourself and I remember there was a Mr Vasi Nair, who was the English master.
SM: He was a fantastic bloke, because if you wrote compositions and it was, you know, up to standard he gave you poor marks; but if you wrote something exceptional he gave you very good marks, you know. He was an excellent English master. And I remember I was writing about the, you know, the non‑capitalist society in a composition or something and in general, you know, I spoke about the advantages of a socialist society, social order, you know.
VR: May I ask you where you were able to lay your hands on books of this nature?
SM: Well, mostly it came from the Library, our Library, and also it was available at, you know, our Congress Library, Youth Congress Library.
SM: We had books, you know, to read on and so, if that was an unusual composition and he gave me good marks, fifteen out of twenty and that was very good marks, you know, for compositions. And we like... on nights we used to get together ‑ we used to view the stars ‑ with Dr MB Naidoo, for review of the heavenly bodies; and we enjoyed it thoroughly but now and again when Dr MB Naidoo lectures he falls off to sleep. A lot of people said that he was bitten by the Tsetse fly and the disease was still in his blood, and... [interruption]
VR: I also heard that...
SM: Well, you also?
VR: Hmm. [Laughing]
SM: It is not funny.
SM: And after, or during my matric I never used to do a lot of homework, at that time, because I was sitting in the Library reading up Einstein's laws on the Theory of Relativity. I found that far more interesting than schoolwork but I realised I had to do the schoolwork if I had to get anywhere in life; that I have to do a small portion of that; and I used to read a lot about Einstein and the workings. And that was the time that science really bit me, you know, I really got interested in the scientific world.
SM: And even when anybody got around me, when they said what is your scientific explanation of this, you know, like guys used to say that because I was on a peak in science all the time; and I was the top science student at Sastri College during that time and Mr Bansi, was my mentor in science school and he did very, very well and he encouraged us to experiment and so forth. And then during that time, while I was at Sastri, I was introduced to another person by the name of Billy Nair.
SM: And Billy Nair told me "look here, there is an organisation for me as they have got a lot of science in it, and I must join that organisation." "What organisation is this?" He say: "no, they are forming this organisation, it is called Umkhonto we Sizwe." And at that time, I don't think I remembered this name, but I think he must have mentioned the name. It is called the Spear of the Nation. I said, "what do they do?" He said: "Oh, if you come into the Organisation, then you will know." We set up a meeting, then together with Ronnie Kasrils and I think it was, ja Ronnie Kasrils and BrunoMtolo.
SM: He said, “Well guys, this it,” and then Ronnie Kasril gave a breakdown of why they were forming this organisation; that after Sharpeville and Langa peaceful protest was no longer possible, that the ANC must now go into armed struggle.
VR: Okay. Just before we get ahead of ourselves, Subbi...
VR: How old were you when you joined the Youth Congress of the Natal Indian Congress?
SM: I was eighteen; I was eighteen years old.
VR: You had completed your Matric then?
VR: Yes, just about to complete, ja.
SM: When I joined the - I joined the Umkhonto we Sizwe when I was seventeen years old, and just about completed Matric, that time.
VR: Okay. So you had already belonged to the NIC?
VR: Okay. And you met Billy Nair and Ronnie Kasrils and so on through the NIC - okay. Please continue.
SM: And then at a few occasions – ja, I explained to you why we had then gone through arms & armed struggle, because peaceful struggles were becoming futile.
VR: Can we pause for a moment?
TAPE SWITCHED OFF - ON RESUMPTION]
VR: We are back again. Subbiah can we just refresh that thought of yours, the other one you were talking about – Billy Nair saying that if you joined the Spear of the Nation, Umkhonto, it would give some outlet to your interest in science.
SM: And then after Ronnie Kasrils gave us a speech on the ANC moving into an armed struggle. You know, it was as - we had to develop ways and methods because we can’t have open warfare against the enemy. We would have to resort to, you know, guerilla tactics, as it were, and like blowing up certain strategic places, was a part of this type of warfare.
SM: So when it came, this was like after a while, they arranged a meeting and then there was somebody there, it was Derek Desplace, I think it was Derek. I do not remember whether it was Brian Desplace. There was a bloke there who was a chemist at the Esplanade; he had a chemist there. And he is the one that was getting us the chemicals. And to make the bombs were pretty simple, because you mixed equal quantities of aluminium powder and equal quantities of iron oxide and you used a detonator, Condy's crystals that you get easily from any chemist, it is called permanganate of potash. Now if you grind permanganate of potash and you add a bit of glycerine to it, it turns into flames. And that was the detonator. And then we used a layer of sand for the glycerine to soak through and that was our timing device. And so we timed everything for fifteen minutes. We tried to keep it at 15 minutes. We timed it to keep it at 15 minutes. Now the glycerine soaked through, ignited the Condy's crystals and ignited the bomb. That was very simple ‑ it was called a thermite bomb. It didn't blow up any buildings but it only burnt papers.
VR: I see.
SM: And that was my first experience with these chemi-cals. I remember when I was trying to grind the Condy's crystals it's like pricked your nose, you know the smell, the small particles that you inhale…
SM: ... gives you a prickly feeling in your nose. You had to put it into a mortar and grind the powder so that the glycerine reacts better, you know, with the potash.
VR: How old were you then Subbiah?
SM: As I said, I was about 17-years old, at that time.
VR: Did you already have an interest in that kind of thing?
SM: Well I used to tamper around because when we were at school like, you know, manufacture of explosives, how they made gunpowder you know, because ‑ Francis Bacon, you know, then we felt that he turned history around because of a simple invention of gunpowder; and because you became more powerful with gunpowder at your disposal. And you know, we mixed ourselves saltpetre carbon and ‑ what was the other chemical? saltpetre carbon and I think it was phosphorous. As you made a combination of it you heated it on a stove, and then when you made the powder and dried it out it became gunpowder, you see. And from there, we had well, quite a few excursions trying to - we had a few friends who worked at AECI and there we felt that, you know, instead of making the explosives ourselves, which was very dangerous, we tried to get contacts in AECI to get us dynamite, which was very, very effective so we had to go on a few sorties, during that time. If you worked with friends and that they could steal it ‑ steal the dynamite, and even from people working in construction firms, to get it from them because they had dynamite available, to make friends, get somebody there who worked or pretended to work there, so that we could get dynamite. Because it was coming to a stage now where they were now blowing up railway lines and power pylons, and so forth. To hell with the Government, you see. And then from there, while we were carrying out all these, we used to have political classes on armed struggle in various countries; how successful they were.
SM: And then we had our normal political activity of raising funds for the organisation, you know, and going to normal meetings of ‑ you know, to get to know how the finances were and somebody would give a lecture during one of these meetings, you know, and give us advice of, you know, like political education was concerned. And I remember from Wills Road I used to walk across the Victoria Street Bridge and go to MD Naidoo’s place in Mistri House.
SM: ...that was off Prince Edward Street. And then I used to come back late at night about ten o'clock you know, after the meeting, and then found that it was ‑ everything was so free. I believe you dare not take a walk in that area at night any more, because it has gone so dangerous, you know. And then after I finished matric, I was supposed to go to University, thinking that I might get a scholarship, but unfortunately, during that time it was so difficult I couldn't get into Salisbury [University] and the Movement would have funded me, but I think they were busy with other things. So the best thing I got was a bursary to a teachers' training college...
SM: ...at Springfield.
SM: But while I was there I might add I spent more time at Salisbury Island than at Springfield because of all the activities that was going on there. And when I went to Springfield Training College, although I had a bursary there to train to become a teacher, the lecturers down there treated you like children. Very much like children. And I really rebelled against it. So I thought ‑ this was only going to be my first year here, so I'd go back to, you know, I'd rather go to University; because they were reducing you there to the level of children. I think they have been used to... The lecturers have been so used to teaching children, they thought they could, you know, have the same manner with us. And it was on the 15th of April 1964, that while I was at lectures, three Special Branch people approached Levine as they wanted to see me.
VR: Levine was whom?
SM: He was the Registrar.
SM: And the night before, I was approached by a chap by the name of Ashwin Shah from the Transvaal who was a student at the University, the Salisbury University, who wanted posters and leaflets drawn up. While I was in my room they had ‑ they did the posters for him, they did the posters and leaflets for the boycott of the Graduation Ball.
SM: I mean, the Graduation at least. He told us that the Students Organisation decided to boycott the Graduation because they regarded it as a Tribal College, or a Bush College, they called it during that time. So we, the Congress were fully in support of that and drew up the posters and the leaflets for him that same night and the following morning when I was confronted by the three security policemen who I had seen for the first time, it was Herman Stadler, Grobler and Sergeant Buchner; the three famous - the Famous Trio as I recall them. And they asked me if I was Subbiah Moodley and I said "yes." They said: "oh, did you draw up any leaflets or posters for Salisbury University? And I said: "I haven't heard of that." You know, and denied it completely. "Oh, that’s so, okay" and then "this is somebody poor" and they identified me, and they mentioned my name and I still kept denying it, and I see that Mr Levine was completely flabbergasted as to what all this was about and they asked me to pack up my bags and come with them. When I went down, there were four security cars and I got into one of them. Then they asked me where I lived and I gave them different directions, so that I could make an escape. But no ways, I took them round town before I came home. I thought I could, you know, make a break at one of these because I know they were onto me now and eventually I thought, you know, they pinned me down so I took them home, eventually after about two hours of driving around town; and when I went in there my Mum opened the door and I could see the look on her face, you know, of shock the way the Security Police, you know, rushed in. And they searched the place upside down. They took ‑ they went through everything, they opened the drawers and the cupboards, and my Mum's neat flat, at that time, was turned upside down. And there was a security policeman at the back door and at the side of the building in case I decided to escape. And all the books ‑ when some of the chaps from the Youth Congress were arrested, they made me the Secretary of the Organisation and I had to take all the correspondence and the books that they had, and keep it at home; because ‑ you know, we didn't have any place after that. No manpower. There was about three of us that ran the whole organization, during that time. And so they asked me when they, after that I said goodbye to my Mum and I could see ‑ I was trying to say goodbye to her ‑ she was dumbfounded and we could see the shock on her face, the sadness as they took me away for interrogation at Wentworth.
VR: Can we you just stop there for one moment.
VR: Up to then had you actually detonated any kind of bomb or device?
VR: Up to the time of your arrest.
SM: Yes. Before that?
SM: Ja. As I was saying, okay I seem to have forgotten about one facet of it. And even after these discussions with Ronnie Kasrils and Bruno Mtolo, Billy Nair, we decided that they were going to launch MK properly and then it was decided that they targeted the Bantu Administration Offices in Ordinance Road.
SM: They believed that they kept records of all the Africans coming into town from the different rural areas because they could, because of the dompas that they had, they could identify these people.
SM: You know, and they had papers. So our purpose during this time was to destroy all these papers. So when we went down to the Bantu Administration Office we could see these, what they called blackjacks. The blackjacks used to move around and after a while they used to get tired, they would light a fire, sit down and drink beer. So we knew that was their time and this was the time that we had to make a move.
SM: The Government was aware also that all their buildings had to be protected because they had an inkling then we are going on to the armed struggle. And then the day before we actually bombed the place all these sandbags were dropped around the perimeter of the place. And then the next day we came with our equipment, you know, our bombs, and as I said we ‑ Bruno carried the two five litre cans that contained the mixture of explosives, thermite. We opened the cap and actually we placed the sandbags first before we opened the cap. No, we opened the cap first and then placed it against the door and then we went back and got the sandbags, you know. We had had done all this after establishing that these guards would be on the other side drinking beer, and we would put the sandbags ‑ I carried the sandbags, sory two sandbags, and Ronnie Kasrils carried the other two sandbags and we placed two sandbags on each of the five litre containers.
Bruno Mtolo opened ‑ I mean the caps were there, open, Bruno Mtolo poured the glycerine through the containers and put the caps on. And then we made our different ways; we never went straight home. They will always tell you, never go straight home, always take a devious route before you go home. So we went in all directions, all of us. And then around about half past eight, quarter to nine I heard a thud, you know, explosion, that I knew at least we've launched Umkhonto we Sizwe with this, with a certain amount of success. And it was on the 16th of December 1961 that we launched Umkhonto we Sizwe. And incidentally it was on the 16th of December also that I got married during that time and it was very coincidental.
VR: Can we just pause.
SM: Ja, pause there.
INTERRUPTION ‑ END OF TAPE ‑ ON RESUMPTION
VR: We are back again with you, Subbiah. Can I just take you back a little, at the time you got involved in the preparation of this explosive device, did you realise the gravity of it? Did you realise the impact this would have on your life?
SM: Yes, at that time, you don’t really, you know, you don't have so much of forethought to realise the ramifications of your act. But you do realise the seriousness of it. I mean it's hard for you to predict how one incident is going to affect your life but you ‑ we have been told about the seriousness of it and what would happen to us if we were caught, that we, during that time, we could be hanged, because, you know, and we could be completely divorced from our family.
SM: In other words you could become imprisoned
indefinitely, and yes, we did. We went in there with
our eyes wide open and fully prepared to take all
the consequences that comes to us.
VR: Now can you tell us what year we are talking about.
SM: This was in - the act that we committed was on the 16th of December 1961.
VR: How old were you then?
SM: I was about 17-years old during that time, and I was full of energy and excitement and was, you know, very enthusiastic about this and doing things like this for I realised we now are going to be the foot soldiers of the armed struggle and then in a way we were going to be pioneers. Because the acts launched MK, like officially, you know, in South Africa. And I think this was one of the first acts of resistance against the State in South Africa, although they were planned to coordinate different acts of sabotage throughout the country, but I think this was one of the first acts of sabotage that's been committed against the State in this country. And after we finished the act we went straight home in different directions, as I mentioned.
SM: And when I reached home through the back streets, different back streets and making sure that nobody followed me, I lay in bed for a while with my heart pounding, thinking about every knock on the door that that would be a policeman at the door coming to arrest me. And eventually, I slept through the night, made sure that I washed myself thoroughly that I left no traces of Condy's crystals or iron oxide or aluminium powder, and I realised that after a week if we were not arrested we were quite safe. And then, you know, we dared not talk about it because it was an absolute secret.
VR: Well, I was coming to that.
VR: Did any of your friends know, did your friends know, your family members know that in the first place that you were politically involved; quite deeply politically involved.
SM: Some of my closest colleagues were quite shocked `when they heard that this has happened to me when I was arrested, and at my trial. During the whole core of my conduct I never divulged any information neither to my brothers or my family. My closest friends did not even know that I was involved and, in fact, so much so that is why it took them three years to track me down, because they had no records of me, I was very, very low-profile and I made sure whatever I did that it was done with security and, you know, and I had to be very very careful not to disclose any information, even to my closest friends. Even when we were partying I had to maintain a tight lip and not to be unwise and mention or give them or mention any facts that would give them any suspicion that I was taking part in this type of activity.
VR: Apart from a few comrades that you were working with, no one else knew?
SM: No one else knew, we were sworn to secrecy during that time. And even Phyllis Naidoo, who was a close friend of ours never knew that I was involved in this underground activity.
VR: Shall we go back to the time now when you were arrested by the Security Police?
SM: Three Security Police.
SM: And from there they transported me to the interrogation centre at Wentworth and these people asked me if I had actually drawn up the posters and written the leaflets for the boycott of the graduation ball. Grobler was the first to question me and he was quite a vitriolic man, he was quite aggressive and he would walk around saying "do not deny it, we have information that you had done it." And after a while they bring in Ashwin Shah and they asked him if I was the one who drew up the leaflets and did the posters and he just shook his head and I am shaking my head "no." I was too stunned just, you know, to see him and ‑ you know, he was all ‑ obviously they worked him nice because he was looking drawn out and he was looking pathetic and ‑ you know, then eventually I said look, at this stage, when they were pressing me, I said "look here, I need my lawyers. I won't answer any questions till I see my lawyers." They said: "with the passing of the General Law Amendment Act you got no access to lawyers, you will rot in prison and we will make sure that you rot if you don't cooperate with us." And then after I said I wanted to see my lawyers they started pummelling me in my solar plexus. They come and knock you in the ribs, your solar plexus and then they ‑ whilst sitting on the chair, they kick the chair from underneath you. They really try and terrorise you, the three of them come in there. And eventually after that ‑ it would seem that quite a period that seemed like a lifetime in there being interrogated, and then they pummel you with a rubber truncheon while they make you stand absolutely still and you dare not move, and they knock you with this truncheon while they are questioning you. That's the first time that I was in the presence of policemen and the first time being interrogated in that manner, and by half past five that evening they finished. Had no cup of tea and no food from that morning so I was feeling a bit hungry, but, you know, this type of terrorism dispelled some of that hunger. They eventually dropped me off at Montclair Police Station that night and, you know, they closed the door and I could get the pungent smell of urine, you know, and the smell of wetness, a very dank smell there and I started, left my bag down. Funny enough, they never did inspect my bag, the satchel and then I walked from ‑ I started pacing the cell.
In the corner there was a bucket that took care of your excretory functions. There was no water there, inside, there was no tap, and gradually I paced up and down until I could think. It must have been about midnight when I decided to sit on the sisal mat. They had one sisal mat and a blanket. The blanket was obviously wet with urine, and then I decided to sit on the sisal mat. And there was a piece of newspaper lying on the floor. I could "hear" this newspaper, you know, there was a tick‑tick noise going on.
Then I realised at close quarters that they were fleas and they got onto me, quite a few fleas around there, and then I started scratching after that. Oh God, you know, the sight of it was so bad because now you are not used to so many fleas and the itchiness throughout your body. I took off my shirt and then I found a louse.
You know, when you get used to the lice you could feel it when they crawl on your body. They got an oily feeling, you know, as it creeps up your body, and oh I had it. I thought I had enough of these people. So when the guard opened the door in the morning I made a complaint to the Station Commandant.
SM: And then he was very sympathetic and he then sprayed the cell with DDT but after spraying the cell with DDT, I fear my nose is very sensitive, it picks up these particles and irritates my nose. And then I explained to them and then they wiped the DDT there. Eventually you get used to these, you know, the vermin that you have in the cell, and one day when I was still in Montclair I heard a knock on the door and the Magistrate opened the door and he asked me "Any complaints?" and I said yes this cell is full of lice and fleas and it is very very filthy. The blankets are smelling of urine and the mat, the sisal mat is dirty." He said "Look here, I did not come here to..."
Then I showed him the sores on my legs and it was through scratching. And he said "Look here I am not here to entertain frivolous excuses" and he walked away. And I thought to myself these Magistrates are only appointed for overseas consumption. They were not there to oversee and protect the detainees.
SB: So now, officially I was under Ninety-Days Deten-tion. The first Ninety-Day period of detention.
VR: The first one you were held under was the General Law Amendment Act and then later they changed it to the Ninety-Day Clause?
SB: Yes, Ninety-Day Clause.
VR: Okay. How long did you remain in detention?
SB: Well that was the first period of detention. After a
while, after three months, they took me down to
Amanzimtoti for another Ninety-Day period. That
was a second Ninety-Day period. You see, when I
appeared on Trial for defacement of public
property, they charged me as in, and the co-accused
"for defacing public property at the University."
You know this chap stuck up posters on the notice boards and distributed leaflets were charged for "defacement of public property."
You know that is the term they had for sticking up posters on the walls of the University.
So when I was found guilty of that and fined R300 I was released. I just had a few words with my Mum, and then I was re‑arrested again and put into Amanzimtoti cells.
VR: At the time, did they tell you why they were re‑arresting you?
SM: Yes they gave me an inkling at one of the interrogations, they told me that this business about posters and leaflets was a small matter, because there was something bigger. I was involved in something bigger coming up. So that gave me a bit of a shiver because I'd maintained - as I said I maintained very close security and tried to be as disciplined as possible. And after I was left in Amanzimtoti they brought me in again for interrogation and they told me that I was now being charged for sabotage, but if I did not want to get charged with sabotage I must now give them information on all those people that took part with me, you know, and then I would be released and I could go home. I thought gee whiz they must think I am bloody stupid to fall for that. Even if it was true, I mean, the way how I was trained not to give any information. You would rather die than give that type of information.
SM: And when they told me they were going to charge me, when ‑ before that ‑ they had an interview, I had to walk around the courtyard with Sergeant Nayager and I could see, you know, he did this, and then I looked down. He was at the window there, there was somebody that moved away and I think I recognised who it was. It was Bruno Mtolo. They brought him in to identify me, whether I was the chap who had committed that act, they see as sabotage. Because it was three years ago and probably they lost thread of the whole thing, but now it was, because of Bruno Mtolo now, he was bringing all this back, and he was poor. I think he positively identified me at that walk in the quadrangle of the Interrogation Centre.
VR: At the time you set off that device, was it just yourself and Bruno Mtolo?
SM: There was Ronnie Kasrils, also.
VR: Present? He was present there?
SM: He was present. We were the three principal guys who performed the act, the three of us.
VR: And where was Ronnie Kasrils at the time Bruno Mtolo identified you when you were in detention?
SM: Ronnie Kasrils was ‑ he was probably in Angola or he was out of the country, in any case. So when they did this ‑ is obviously this one other person because of our close security. It could only be one person, that was Bruno Mtolo, who gave me up and I realised by the grapevine that he has been giving evidence all over the show. So it could only have been Bruno Mtolo.
And when I went back, I mean they tried to break you down in the same sort of tactics by knocking you, kicking your chair and they also play with a gun. You know, they take the gun, they take the magazine out and thinking that we don't know anything about guns. But little did they realise that we could, you know, assemble and disassemble guns even like almost blindfolded.
So they thought they could put a gun there and like threaten us and then we would break down, you know. I mean they are so naïve, especially this Sergeant Nayager. I mean he treated you like ‑ he was a bit shallow. He thought that he could use these terror tactics to break anybody.
SM: And eventually, I was brought to the Central Police Station. That was roundabout early '64. 1964 ja, and then I spent about two weeks in Central Police Prison, awaiting trial.
SM: And because it was a serious case it had to be conducted in Maritzburg Supreme Court. And so they had two Assessors there on that particular day. Actually they did not give me a chance to ‑ you know, like get dressed and go to court. Whatever clothes I had that day I put on and then... Well they did give me a blade to have a shave, you know, to go to court. And there were two Assessors and Justice Fannin, who was at my Trial.
SM: And then they had Mr Andrew Wilson, he was the Advocate.
VR: Yes, who defended you?
SM: He was organised. Ja, he was organised by Defence & Aid of the ANC, the Alliance - Congress Alliance Movement. I was sentenced to three years in prison and in view of my youth at that time, I got two years which was suspended.
VR: Can I just go back a little to the time of your detention and your interrogation. You know, one knows that the torture methods that they use can be almost unbearable. But the time spent in solitary confinement. Tell us a little about that. How did you cope?
SM: Yes, I have. Especially with the one in Amanzimtoti was very secluded and you know, if you did not have a proper imagination and if you did not have ‑ you know, your science, your calculations, you would probably go mad if you had nothing in your mind. During the time that I was there, I could like revise. I had a pencil that I smuggled in and then I used to write on toilet paper. I used to write the, you know, the configuration of the different elements, its electronic configuration, how they combined, you know. What we had learnt at school and all the elements like from Hydrogen to Nobilium, you know. Different atomic numbers, atomic weights, memorised them; and you know, your day passed; like even meditation, doing a bit of meditation and you do your round of exercises. You know, you must do your round of exercises.
After the exercises I used to have a cold shower; this place had a shower, and it was quite nice from that point of view compared to Montclair. Montclair had nothing. And your different mathematical equations that you had, you know, you work hard and as I said before when I wrote my matric I spent more time there at the Library reading about Einstein's Theory of Relativity and the different aspects of science, plutonium, mechanics and you know, your time - you live in your world where you can actually calculate things mentally. It is a good mental exercise and it is good for discipline. You know, if you can change solitary confinement to an advantage, it is left to you, entirely upon you and your determination to succeed and your determination to stay whole. You have to do these things to keep in one piece otherwise you would shatter.
VR: Had you managed to stay whole then?
SM: Yes, as you can see I am still in one piece. Okay.
VR: Okay, tell us about the trial, itself.
SM: Okay. In Maritzburg as I said we had Justice Fannin and two Assessors, and they ‑ the Prosecutor laid the charge that I was a student during that time and rabidly tried to insinuate that ‑ you know ‑ I was a communist.
SM: And all these people were like ‑ you know, they sort of like classed us as fanatics, that sort of thing, and I was asked, eventually - the defence put me on, put me into the witness-box and I explained to them exactly what had happened, you know the thread of my life from childhood through all the different forms of discrimination I experienced as a youth that turned me into the person that I am, I explained to them. And obviously after ‑ during that short spell, they found me guilty and we had called Dr AD Lazarus as my principal to appear in mitigation.
SM: The poor man had to wait the whole day, he too was not feeling too well, and he spoke on my behalf quite ‑ you know quite well and ‑ you know ‑ unfortunate that even, when I came back out of prison I never saw him alive, he was dead by the time I came out of prison. Oh, but if he was alive when I came out of prison I was not able to see him till I heard that he had passed away; and that was the trial. And after the trial, after I had been sentenced I could see my Mum there, crying. She said "how are you - how are you going to stay in prison. You know you are so young, you haven't even seen life yet" and she started hugging me and crying. So I told her, “Look here, Ma, life was going, time will pass, one year will pass very quickly, don't you worry, I'll be back." And then she was very, like unconvinced, but they had ‑ I was plucked away by these guards into going to the cells. When you get sentenced now you are going to another cell, you know like, you get...[interruption]
VR: When you were awaiting Trial?
SM: Ja, no longer, you were sentenced now.
SM: That is when they call you a "bandiet", you know.
SM: They use the term in that language; their parlance; prison parlance as a bandiet. And there I was, I don't know for some reason why they thought I was such a dangerous person they put me in leg irons and handcuffs and lead me down until I reached the Pietermaritzburg Prison where I was kept for about a month. And while I was in Pietermaritzburg Prison, you know, and while ‑ sorry, make a note here ‑ when you enter Pietermaritzburg Prison you find that it is not a clean place, you know. But none of the South African Prisons ‑ I mean the Natal Prisons ‑ are clean. Even the Central Prison was a bit untidy, and Maritzburg was no better and you find in the mornings people boiling clothes ‑ you know, all your clothes are steamed.
You see steam arising and these guys got these, like steam hoses and putting it onto your clothes to kill the lice and the fleas. And I said, “Oh God, a good thing.” And as soon as you come in they shave off your hair so it doesn't have the lice and the fleas don't have a place to breed.
SM: The first day I was locked in, I met a person by the name of Mr Harry Gwala. And he was a very learned man, and very pleasant. At first, he was suspicious because the Security Police were very fond of putting in spies amongst the prisoners so they could get more information from them. This was the devious ways of the Security Police. The methods that they used; devious methods and I stayed there. We used to discuss a lot of philosophical questions, you know, about the nature of armed struggle and he explained about Mao Tse-Tung contradiction what wonderful treaties on you know, about general laws of dialectics and it was getting ‑ I thought Prison life was going to be quite pleasant after all and then they separated us, the reason being that they do not keep two prisoners in one cell. In the event that the one kills the other, there won't be a witness.
And one morning, after I had spent a month there, there was the clanging and banging of doors and keys. My cell door was opened, and for the rest of my stay there I was kept in isolation, by the way. And it seemed to be right through, wherever I went, I was kept in isolation and they told us there was a draft, and we had to pick up our things. You know, we didn't have much, we only had a toothbrush and soap that we had to carry. A toothbrush, soap and our toothpaste. That was our humble belongings. And then they clapped us in leg irons and handcuffs and we were shoved into the trucks and off we went. After a few hours of travelling, about five or six hours of travelling in the back of the truck, we landed at Leeukop Prison. And this Prison, when you approach this Prison, it has got two big lion heads ‑ that is why it is called Leeukop. And before we stepped out there was a Warder called Magalies. He was a... I think he was similar to Satan. He was cruel, he was crude and you know, almost a sadist. And he said "julle hoor, die plek se naam is tronk, die plek se naam is nie hotel nie." He gave you a shove on the back and a hard kick and he made you run. He said "vat en loop." Whatever you had there you had to ‑ I think they gave you your bag with your belongings in, all your civil clothing that you had, was put in a bag, and you had to carry that now; and you had to grab that bag and run. And then they made you strip, completely naked, and they fingered you up your anus, you may have had to open your mouth in case you were carrying any contraband into the prison. That's normal, that's what they call "Towza." It is called towza in prison. And you were given your clothes, your things were kept and recorded, your name, what sentence, what you are charged for. You had a card, a prison card and then we were taken to D‑Section. It was called "D‑Seksie," and in section this you had the rapists, you had the murderers, you had the worst criminal elements kept in this section and they decided to keep the political prisoners in that section. So I went into D‑section, and then there were a few political prisoners in D‑section who welcomed me and asked me what I had been charged for ‑ a normal thing, what happened, what was going on outside. They all wanted to know what was happening outside and then you give them the latest information of what you know, and then it was toward evening they gave us "kobe." You know "kobe" was a nibble of vegetables. "Kobe" is boiled mealies ‑ you know.
SM: And you have to get used to that. At first it is a bit coarse and a bit hard ‑ you know, and we sang Nkosi Sikelela iAfrika. Every evening we sing, sing Nkosi Sikelelai Afrika and then we go to bed. The bed ‑ that was standard equipment, you know your standard bedding throughout South African prisons. You had one sisal mat, and a blanket and that was it. You slept in between the blanket and the sisal mat, and there in the Transvaal it used to get very very cold ‑ you know, in winter.
There throughout my stay there I met many people who were en route to Robben Island. I met people like Wilton Mkwai, we used to call him General Brevie; and then I met people like Mac Maharaj; and Laloo Chiba and they used to tell us, when they were interrogated, how they were kept in adjacent cells, and then how they used to communicate, what they have done. They used to communicate through morse code by knocking on the wall with a spoon.
SM: And that was how they got their information across, which I thought was very clever. And there was another guy by the name of Joe Gcabi.
SM: He trained in 19 Military College of China, and he was quite astute, very physically fit, mentally also; and he, in his time, he also did Yoga. And he was quite an ardent student of Yoga and he said that that is the thing that kept him ‑ you know, together in isolation during interrogation, and he was very keen to learn the sciences. So in the morning we used to ‑ when the bell rang at five o'clock we all got up, we folded our bedding, we made it nice and neat.
SM: If it was not neat you got "drie maaltye." "Drie maaltye" meant that three meals were denied to you, so you were kept in what they called the "gulugoeds." "Gulugoeds" means isolation cells.
SM: And if you infringed on their discipline you were taken into the "gulugoeds" and denied three meals a day and you had to stand at attention until the warder opened the grill, the gates, and then they would inspect it and say okay, "stap uit." Now "stap uit" means now you have to go and get your porridge from the kitchen. They all had to run in a line to go to the kitchen and your food was on the sill there, you know. You see the porridge looking green and yellow and like fungi had set into the porridge, and a blob of syrup in the centre.
Now you used to grab this thing and you ran back to your cell. And you had your own spoon in the cell. So you had to bypass all the green stuff on the porridge, eat the normal porridge and leave the syrup for the end ‑ you know, eat the syrup in the end. And then you would leave your plates outside there under the grill and they call the other chap the monitor. Now the monitors are those people ‑ you know, prisoners, the criminals who were given special rights to do these duties of bringing letters to you or if you were wanted in reception they would come and announce your name and then the guard would come and open up for you. And there also the smuggling of tobacco. If you gave them your toothpaste, they would give you tobacco. You gave them a tube of toothpaste; they give you tobacco. Now the funny thing is that when they had tobacco there, we used pieces of the Bible that they used to give us, and we would wrap the tobacco ‑ you know, Bible sheets. The pages of the Bible, we would wrap the tobacco with that. So ironic, the only thing they gave you to read in prison was the Bible.
SM: Or even when, even in isolation, you have the Bible right through, in different languages, and then one chap used to say, "what a thing you are doing here man, we are using the Bible to smoke."
SM: And then in the spoon ‑ they used to give us like spoons and they used to put a piece of flint in the spoon, so that they won't get caught. But I think the warders know that this is going on but I don't think they mind, you know, and then they used to give us razors now, like every week or every two weeks we used to shave our hair off. You know, all that... that was standard practice, in prison you have to shave your hair.
VR: You were allowed to do this yourself?
SM: Under the eye of the warder, ya. And then what these guys used to do, when they are given blades, they'll break the blade and say, "our blade broke" so the other piece went into the pocket.
SM: So they used to use the blade and shavings off their spoon ‑ you know, onto a toilet paper and you strike the flint and the flint catches alight, because you are not allowed to keep matches or anything in the prison. The spoon shavings catches alight and then they would blow on it and then the toilet paper catches alight and then they got a light in prison, you see.
SM: And the guys ‑ there... That's like holiday for them, they have smoke now they always nice and like high, eh, you know after a few years if you haven't had a smoke and then you have a smoke of Magalies. They used to call it Magaliesberg, the tobacco.
SM: Very strong tobacco, and then the guys, they feel very happy like during that time, and there was not really much there, and like after breakfast we used to have classes. I used to do physics and maths and chemistry with them, and the ‑ Steven Dlamini used to do ‑ you know, labour law, trade union, trade unionism and well, Joe Gcabi used to do the general Karate training of all, you know, they gave him physicals.
SM: Gave the chaps physical exercise and we had Galaki Sello that did Law that is now in Basutoland, I mean Lesotho it is now known as. While Mac Maharaj was there, they used to do ‑ you know, underground activities, the different aspects and how to ‑ you know, avoid detection and how to ‑ you know, be less suspicious ‑ you know, that type of thing. We had a full - like a school inside there when we were around and the thing that we used to use is, we had no pencils or anything. We used the toothpaste tube, expired toothpaste tube, turned it inside out. Now the aluminium that was there, when you wrote on the floor, showed silver.
SM: That is how we used to write on the floor, and when we are finished wipe them off. You know, different equations, what we want to ‑ you know, different diagrams that we drew like on there. You could see it quite clearly ‑ you know, when you wrote on the floor, the cement floor and now and again, after a while, and it used to be rather about the coldest days that they take you out for a shower, you know, but if today is shower day ‑ it is only like once a week, and they make you have a shower and then they tell you afterwards, that it is a cold day, you must now, wash your clothes also during and after the shower. And when you go to the tap they give you a blue soap. You know it looked like a liquid, not soap, like a liquid soap. If you put your pants in it does not even lather properly. So you scrub your shirt and your pants and then you leave it in the yard. In an hour then they also ask you now to ‑ what do you do... Do you take your blanket now and wrap it around you till the time that those clothes dry?
VR: You mean you didn't have another change of clothes.
SM: Not a change of clothes or nothing.
SM: You have got to use those clothes again. And if it was damp you just wore and slept with it. And then while we had one of these things, it was during lunch time and we were running to get our food, and there was ‑ you know, a bit of gravy on the plate and I tried to grab it, and it slipped from my hand. And also you couldn't run properly with the blanket around you and this warder, Afrikaner warder whacked me with this cane. I think it had a bit of lead in it. You know, they weight it with a bit of lead.
SM: It is a leather cane with a bit of lead in it to give it weight. And he just lashed me twice and the pain was so searing I just grabbed this plate and I shoved it in his face. Then they were on me. And after that they knocked me cold, unconscious and then put me into the "gulugoeds" because of isolation for one week.
SM: So on one week I had to live on mealie‑rice water.
VR: The whole week.
SM: The whole week I had to live on mealie‑rice water and you dared not skip mealie‑rice water because you became ‑ you know, dehydrated. So you had to have that mealie‑rice water. And after I came in, all [my cell mates] sympathised. We all had you had your normal meals of "Kobe." You couldn't eat that because your stomach has now shrunk and you had to drink a bit of water first ‑ you know, and get your stomach to expand again. And then eat your normal food after a while. And then after that the warder was always eyeing me but fortunately they sent him on a transfer also. I don't know why, but I never saw him after a while, for a long time until my release. And then...[interruption]
VR: Did you spend a full year at Leeukop?
SM: Ja. Not, just I was coming to another incident.
SM: After a while they realised that that was merely a transit camp. But I had to, I had to go to Robben Island or go to another centre. That was Kroonstad in the Orange Free State.
SM: Because at that prison only takes... It was only a transit camp. It was not a permanent place where they kept political prisoners.
SM: So that the thing is that they only took people in Robben Island for over five years, with sentences over five years.
SM: If the sentence was under five years you were sent to Kroonstad. So we were bundled one morning into another truck en route to Kroonstad. And when I got to Kroonstad now, there the warder told me, "hey we do not take Indians here man." And then they put me in another cell and said, "look here, you will have to go back to Leeukop. We do not keep Indians in the Orange Free State."
VR: Can we hold that thought.
INTERRUPTION ‑ RESUMPTION ON TAPE 2A
VR: Subbiah, the Prison you went to in the Free State?
SM: Yes, in the Free State, it was called Kroonstad. And they put me in a cell all alone, and the amazing thing is all the warders in that cell, came to look at me as if I was some specimen from out of space or some creature on land; unusual creature on land. They all came in there, they opened the door and said, "hello charra, how are you?" Eh. The next one came in there, "hello charra, how are you?" And they were all giggling with each other and hey, I couldn't figure it out what they were up to, you know. Obviously they had not seen an Indian prisoner there in Kroonstad and it was a novelty to them, and after that it passed away and then I only slept there for one night. The next day I was on my way back to Leeukop. Because the regulations stated that they could not keep Indian prisoners. They, Indians were not allowed in the Free State, so I had to be sent back the next day. Back to Leeukop, and when I got back to Leeukop the warders are laughing. "What's happening there? Don't people in the Free State want you?" And they would giggle amongst themselves.
SM: You know, their Afrikaner mentality. And so the rest of the sentence, as I said, went the daily route. We were not allowed to go out in the spans. The spans are like labour groups that go out and work on the farms or work in people's houses.
We were kept in the cells all the time except for fifteen minutes exercise period you were given, in the morning to walk around, and there was nothing except on Sundays you might get a certain warder who would take you out and they would bring a priest and a lecture on Christianity. No we thought, don't matter what kind of religion is here, we all got a break to go out. We all go out and we listen to the pastor. And that was for about two hours and that was like being in the sun, you know.
SM: It was so nice to be in the sun. And a lot of things that we take for granted, like the trees, the moon, the breeze, you know the different smells of nature. We all missed that inside, there inside the cell you do not see any of that. You see the walls, you see the grid, and when you get up in the morning you think it is a dream, until you see the grids and the walls and till you check your surroundings. Then you think eh it is a dream. But it is not a dream; it is the reality.
And then the day before I was discharged, they came to me and gave me my clothes and said I must iron them. I said, "good God, how do you iron something where there is no iron now." And so the other people explained to me, this is how you do it. You lay your pants onto the blanket and then fold the other piece of the blanket over your pants. And then you run on your pants. You...
SM: You run on your pants, your run on your pants, right through up and down you run, and then amazingly enough it comes out quite ironed, hey. It comes out quite well. And you do the same with your shirt. You know, the day before they give it to you to wash and dry and this is how you iron it. And I was quite surprised because the thumping and the heat of your legs irons the clothes. And now during this day everybody says, "look here, send a message to somebody. Send a, you know, send a message to my wife, tell her that I am fine." Because a lot of them were not allowed visits for about six months or so.
SM: Being in the D‑Section and a lot of them have to be graded when they get to Robben Island.
SM: And I will try to memorise as many ‑ you know, addresses as I can, or try and get the name and get the address from the phone book, you know. If they were on the phone book, and I remember, Joe Gcabi had given me a few messages to the Rand Daily Mail, and I had to go to the offices of the Rand Daily Mail and give somebody a message there to contact Joe Gcabi. You know, things like that.
And you know they gave me a third class rail warrant and then I added excess, I had a bit of money from the money that my parents sent me every month for my toiletries like soap, toothpaste or toothbrush, and that was the remainder, about R70. So I excessed the rail for a third class, rail warrant so that I could speed and then…[interrup- tion]
VR: On that point. While you were actually serving the sentence...
VR: ...were you entitled to see an attorney, were you entitled to visits from family and friends from home?
SM: Firstly, you were not allowed to see an attorney unless it was for another charge that they were making against you. There were quite a few prisoners, whilst serving one sentence, they were also charged for another sentence and that is when they were called out by the lawyers so that they could ‑ you know ‑ discuss the case.
SM: And like in our case, when you are a D‑Section prisoner, you are allowed one letter in six months and one visit in six months. And during that time ‑ you know, I told my parents in my last letter that they should not come and visit me because I would be out in a year so there was not any point in their coming along right up to Leeukop because it's quite a... it's not ordinary, it's not along your normal route, Leeukop.
SM: And as I was saying, the day before you had... on the day that you were discharged they call you up in the office, they tell you "look here, you must try and behave yourself now and don't get up to mischief." They had the counsellors there, and off you went and you opened the gate. They put you in a truck; there were no chains, no leg‑irons.
You were a free man, and they dropped you off in town. So while we were in prison there was this one guy who used to tell how nice a Camel cigarette tastes and so forth, so I thought no, when I get out I am going to buy a packet of Camel cigarettes and taste how good it tasted.
[Laughing] And he said "you must not buy the filter, you must buy the plain because that is what gives you the taste." And then I bought one and I had it and said ah, just like all other cigarettes ‑ you know, and then I bought a pie, I had a glass of milk and I waited for the train to arrive. While I was at the station I did not want to get too far in case something happened to me, I just wanted to get on the train so I stayed at the station; having a few puffs. I took a few more puffs of the Camel cigarettes, and then I got in. As I got in there, there was a pastor in the compartment, and he was very, very wary. He did not want to speak to me because I was close-shaven. I had just shaven; and you know, by all the training that we had I looked very fit, you know, very, very fit. And he felt something like, you know, I was about to rob him or commit some act of violence on him, this priest.
So I noticed him getting up quite often, walking around in the compartment and I said: "look, you know, I know you are feeling uneasy, let me talk to you," you know. And I told him what had happened to me, where I came from. And then, after that he never stopped asking questions. I had to tell him to keep quiet so that I can sleep, you know.
And then, you could not really sleep in the train,
that is why I added excess for second class so that I
could have a bed to sleep. I was quite restless. You
know, you ruminate through allhe things that you
have been and gone through; which you never would
have anticipated, you know, normally. You know
that is the thing that your life - you cannot predict
your life. Certain things you can do, but the
outcome, the final outcome of your life is
unpredictable. It's beyond your control, you
know. As we go through there's different courses.
And the most welcome sight that I had when I stepped off the train at Central Station was Phyllis running towards me; and then she hugged me and then she keeps asking me, "Was I there when you came out?" I said, "Yes, yes you were there, it was me that you welcomed" and then when I went home I had one loaf of bread. My mother cooked some nice mutton curry. I had one loaf of bread and I was still feeling hungry.
Obviously the "Kobe." All the "Kobe" I had there,
had made my system quite strong inside.
SM: Because the normal bread you get there is like sponge, you know; and then after that I spent a few days at home and there were friends who came in. A lot of Security Police also visited me. They knew exactly when I was out. Obviously they had told them; and my poor Dad he said, "no‑no‑no, don't worry this chap now, he is no more interested in politics and so forth, give him a chance. Now don't let them to harass you,” and I said, "Dad, don't worry about them, they're not worried about whatever you say because they don't have any sympathy. They’ve got a job to do; they will hound you. They are a bunch of pigs, don't you worry about them. Don't even try to plead with them because it's useless," you know. And then I stayed for about three months, trying to find a job around Durban. The few that I got was soon - the Security Policeman soon got to the employer to see that I was not employed, and there even though you still have your sentential come out.
SM: They are so vengeful.
SM: They would do anything to make your life uncomfortable. They want to make it more uncomfortable than the prison you came from, and so my uncle at that time told me, "look, why don't you come for a holiday?"
[INTERRUPTION ‑ TELEPHONE RINGING]
Sorry, I should have pulled out the plug.
"Why don't you come for a holiday." you know, maybe you can get a job over there, because the activity of the Special Branch are quite intense in Durban. Maybe, come and spend some time there.
He was running a clothing factory. His name was
Martin Pillay. He was a sergeant in the Second World War.
SM: You know, a sergeant quartermaster, used to transport all the goods to the soldiers, you know, the supplies and he was a very, very nice and generous man.
VR: Hmm. Did you at any stage, when you came home from prison, and especially with the harassment of the police and so on, consider going into exile? Leaving the country?
SM: Because I was given some indication that when I did come out that, you know, I would be going into exile or getting a scholarship to one of the universities; and that is what I was given to understand in prison, also. But nothing - the last three months I spent there; there was no indication,
whatsoever, of anything good coming through. In fact, Phyllis Naidoo, I heard later, was trying to organise something, but it fell through and she said that the people who were there overseas were now trying to get their friends, their relatives down that way, instead of getting the ANC cadres, you know, and that is what we were given to understand; and that made me little bit bitter for a while because that would hamper my progress, you know, education-wise. So that when I wanted to come back into the country to build the country, I would be at a disadvantage.
SM: And anyway I took the invitation of uncle to visit him on the farm. Well it is more ‑ it is quite a farming area but it is, you know, a little bit industrialised. So I used to help him with, I used to lay out all his plants, I used to help him with the electrical things, the electrical wiring, layouts of the different machines; and gradually the boss was getting to realise that I was fraternising with the workers too much. So he told my uncle, "Look, your nephew here is a bad influence on the workers. Just now the people will be striking for higher pay." Well, my Uncle told me, "look here, so we will try and find another job somewhere because my job is on the line." So I thought, ‘no, I do not want to jeopardise his job because of my sake,’ and then I left. And then eventually I got an apprenticeship with an Irishman in Manaba. It was a place near Margate, the present Margate. And I told him, “Look, you are going to expect the Special Branch to come here and tell you these things. I have come from prison; I have served my sentence. This is what I have done; and you might as well tell me now if, you know, you don't want to give me a job. Because I don't want to get employed and then find that afterwards you are dismissing me, you know.”
SM: Then he says, "Damn them. I'm an Irishman man, let them come here, I will chase them from here." You know, that type of thing, I thought, gee whiz, there is man, you know. The Irishman says, "We have been through this in Ireland, and you know, I am totally with the ANC, for what you are doing?" and all that. I thought, Ooh. That I never expected you know.
SM: And the Special Branch did come there a few times and he said, "Who are you, are you customers?" and he actually chased them out of the place.
VR: Your optimism has impacted very strongly on your life, has it not?
SM: Yes, it has definitely impacted, and you know, it is a funny thing you find people of different opinions that you least expect in life. You know, I never expected this Irishman to come out in support of me. I said now, you know, there is somebody at least I could eke out a living from (this), you know, because I was not trained to do any type of job. You know, from and so far, like if you left me a little probably the only thing I could do... I could not even do farming, you know. The only thing I could probably do is carry boxes from the harbour and, you know, load and disembark ships or something.
SM: I was not trained to do any job for a living.
VR: How did you maintain a sense of optimism throughout these years?
SM: Throughout these years, I think because I was engaged in sports, I had the support of my Uncle and Auntie, you know they gave me constant encouragement; then I used to come to Durban, meet the friends. But even then, when I used to come down I used to visit [AKM] Docrat and, you know, make contact to see if they got any information. Everybody was banned; all the organisations were banned; everybody was wary to communicate; so you never really made contact with anybody unless you did it surreptitiously.
SM: And, like the thing is, you had a few friends and they would entertain you, but now the thing is that the political end; struggle - there was no direction at all coming, you know, there was nothing, nothing healthy. It was just a get-together, either a small party, and that was it. It was like a one night thing, you know, and then it was over.
And I used to go back to Shepstone, and carry on with the job; and I thought to myself, ‘hell, this chap has offered me a job. I must make sure that I work properly, apply myself, and learn whatever I can from him, because he is willing to teach me.’ And then I stayed there for five years; and then I came down and wrote my Trade Test. And I passed the Trade Test, and I was qualified.
VR: This was in the printing industry?
SM: That was in the printing industry. And side-by-side, while I was doing this with the printing industry, I also studied electronics and also qualified, almost a year after I qualified in the printing industry, I got a complete Radio and TV Engineering Diploma. I did that, well, side-by-side. In fact, it is my electronics that actually kept me together also, because there is always something to tamper with, tinker with.
SM: I built, you now, I built my own oscilloscope while I was there, own generators, signal generators, I built on my own.
VR: You had a family by then? Were you married?
SM: Not then.
VR: Not then.
SM: While I was there [in Port Shepstone], I used to teach maths, you know, to different high school children and then I got involved in that type of thing, you know. You know, I would give them free tuition; and then that is how I met my wife because I used to give her maths tuition and she never used to understand a thing, so much and she used to come quite often.
And so, in fact, her granny was totally against our marriage because I was a politician that time; and politicians were taboo; they got you into trouble; they never supported their families. They were out of a job most of the time; and her granny advised her strongly enough not to get married; but she was as steadfast as her granny to get married. And eventually, her granny gave in after they met my parents and then the wedding date was set for 16 December 1970, I got married. And as I explained earlier the 16th of December was Dingaan’s day. It was the same day that I carried out the act of sabotage.
SM: And which put me into course that I had taken; and then afterwards we got married; we had three children; two girls and one boy. The boy was Dalendran; the girls were Subashni; and the youngest was Karunia. And I have pictures of them, which I will show you soon, and Dalendran ‑ when we came, we had to come to Durban from Port Shepstone and moved over from there, because the children were now ready to go university; a university or a higher institution of learning. Now, because their mother was a bit wary about letting the children travel every weekend to [Port] Shepstone and back, it was getting a bit dangerous. So we decided to move to Durban permanently. And this is when we came down here to Reservoir Hills because it looked quiet, it was like our place, you know, and we decided to buy here and while my daughter qualified in Labour Law at the M L Sultan Technical College, Dalendran did Aeronautical Engineering at Wits University and thereafter he went to the Air Force and now presently he is a pilot with the SAA.
Karunia completed her matric, and she is now doing Computer Science with Damelin College. She has finished one year, and she has got now two more years to go. I think they are doing this in modules, so each module is some sort of qualification towards your area.
VR: Tell me Subbiah, in 1990, when Mandela was re-leased, all the political organisations were unbanned, did you ever think that would happen?
SM: No, personally I never thought that that would happen because these, the Afrikaners were so headstrong, so determined, you know, to stamp out the Movement. Obviously there was great pressure from overseas, you know, to bring to bear on this country. There must have been very great pressure for them to capitulate and decide to start speaking, and I think it was also from within because there were strikes and marches going on throughout the country, which they couldn't control, you know, their negotiations likewise, if they started off with P W Botha and he was regarded as die Groot Krokodil, you know, the big crocodile, and nobody could speak to him, but when Mandela met him he greeted him with a good morning and hello and they got on quite well, I believe, you know.
And even with De Klerk, and he spoke there, but De Klerk was very, very, you know, more cunning, but eventually Mandela had his way and I think it is also... the problem now is, in this country, although we did not have bloodshed, what had happened was the proper order of the heirachy did not take place, because the people from apartheid institutions all got into government. Whereas, the foot soldiers in the ANC, the cadres, were left out. I quote a case like Stephen Dlamini. When he came out of prison; the poor man didn't have transport; he didn't have money. Eventually he died in some farming area, and now this type of thing, uncaring attitude from our people should never be allowed. All those people sacrificed a great deal; and when they come out of prison there must be somebody waiting for them. If it is not the family; the comrades must get together and do things because that man had sacrificed a lot, you see.
VR: Have your hopes been realized, in some small measure, perhaps, since the ANC's come into power?
SM: It has. I mean it has brought about, you know, the freedom. It has brought about democracy, but what is freedom if there is still want of food, want of shelter, I mean, the rich are now getting richer, the poor are getting poorer. Another contradiction in your ‑ in life. If you have this type of development, there's going to be more trouble. The poor are going to fight against the rich and that contradiction is getting sharper and sharper. The cost of living is going up in this country and you know, the prices, you know, the price of petrol, the interest rate is going up; but you know, there's nothing being done for the working-class people, the poor people, their interests. The Government gives themselves increases in Parliament without consulting anybody, and they get a massive increase but they do not worry about the Trade Union Movements, the workers, the peasants, and this is going to be the undoing, if the ANC doesn't watch itself after all what it has preached; we have a problem here. We have a definite problem.
VR: Are you hopeful for the future of this country?
SM: Yes, eventually after all these problems, I'm very very hopeful that wherever a person commits crime, he must pay for it; If he's corrupt, justice must be meted out; he mustn't be able to maintain that position if he has embezzled public funds or if he has done something wrongful. He mustn't occupy high public positions if he's guilty of crime.
VR: A couple of questions on the Truth Commission, Subbiah. Did you give testimony before the Truth Commission?
SM: No, I was not called to give testimony.
VR: Did you give a statement to the Truth Commission, at all?
SM: No, not really. I haven't. I haven't.
VR: Did you believe in the mandate of the Truth Commission?
SM: To an extent, I did believe it. But the thing is you have, you know, it is like opening old wounds. I can't see how you can bring about reconciliation when all these atrocities have been committed in the open, and a lot of them have come out. What I feel, you are exacerbating the rift between the different races. I don't think the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has done its job properly. I mean the nature, the very nature of its inception can never bring about reconciliation.
VR: What do you think about the issue of reparations promised to the victims that have not been properly addressed yet.
SM: I think that is almost criminal, because, you know, those are the first people that the Government should attend to. You know, as long as they have got a bona fide case, they should have been attended to, they should have been seen to because it is through them, it is their struggle, that they are in power today. If it was not for these people and how they have been sidelined, and now they are concentrating on an elite class on the top, in the ANC. That is what they are guilty of now; they are becoming guilty of elitism; and they are forgetting about the lower echelons of the ANC membership; and especially those foot soldiers, who committed themselves to the struggle.
VR: One last question. Looking back on your life, is there anything you would have done differently?
SM: I really can't say, because our options were very limited at that time. If I probably - if I was offered a scholarship very early, probably after matric, I would have taken it and then the whole course of my life would have been different. But I, not for one minute, never regret what had happened to me, and the experience I gained, in fact, I'm very proud of it. And I would do it again if I had the option, go the same way.
VR: Subbiah, thank you for your time, we appreciate this interview and your contribution to our liberation.
SM: Thank you.
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