On 11 July 1963 I was sitting in the living-room of theLiliesleaf farm-house reading Robert Junk’s Brighter than a Thousand Suns, the story of the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945. My comrades were in the thatched cottage, one of the outbuildings, at a meeting of the Umkhonto we Sizwe National High Command and its political advisers when the security police arrived and arrested all of us. I could not see what happened to the other comrades but some jumped out of windows and ran for it, only to be confronted by armed police with attack dogs. It was a dreadful moment. I felt deeply disappointed that we had been stopped in our tracks. Our preparations for intensifying the struggle for freedom were going to come to nothing. It was a cold winter’s day and suddenly it got much colder.
Liliesleaf Farm was the temporary underground headquarters of Umkhonto we Sizwe and had been lent to us by the Communist Party. Arthur Goldreich, with his wife Hazel and two young children Nicholas and Paul, were the apparent owners. Arthur, an artist, designer of stage sets and of department stores, was an activist in MK who had been sent on a mission to the Soviet Union and China to investigate preparations for increased sabotage and eventual guerrilla warfare. He played with relish the role of a member of the northern suburbs’ elite “huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’” social set. Nelson Mandela had lived at Liliesleaf in hiding until he was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for incitement to strike and for leaving the country illegally. The aim of Nelson’s trip had been to investigate the possibilities of support for an armed struggle against the apartheid regime. He travelled the country in disguise, reporting on his trip, and had been betrayed and arrested at Howick in Natal province a year earlier. His arrest did not lead the police to Liliesleaf farm.
I was a member of the High Command’s Logistics Committee instructed to investigate and make the weapons and explosives we would need to implement Operation Mayibuye (Operation Come Back Africa) if it were adopted, to advance from sporadic sabotage attacks to a sustained armed uprising. The plan envisaged 7 000 guerrilla fighters under arms inside South Africa, making ready to receive our returning fighters who were being trained in the People’s Republic of China, the German Democratic Republic and the Soviet Union. On our Logistics Committee we had discussed the feasibility of this plan. We knew it would be very difficult to implement in a short space of time. For example, how do you provide for the feeding and clothing and general care of 7000 men? Where would we get the weapons and the ammunition? We were very inexperienced in military matters while the state was really well-prepared. But the armed struggle, if unsuccessful at the start, would continue at least as armed propaganda against apartheid and economic installations, thus mobilising the mass of the people to the prospect of political and worker action against the system. In time we would build our fighting capacity. As in the period after the massacre at Sharpeville our people were subjected to increasing state violence and wanted protection. Sabotage attacks would inspire our people to renewed mass political action.
There was disagreement on the High Command as to whether Operation Mayibuye had been agreed upon or not. Joe Slovo, Govan Mbeki, Ray Mhlaba and Wilton Mkwayi insisted that it had been. Rusty Bernstein, Walter Sisulu and others including Bram Fischer wanted further discussion. Joe was insistent and had made arrangements to go abroad to arrange for the external support for the operation. He left a short time before we were arrested. Joe Slovo was a co-founder of MK with Nelson Mandela. Rusty was a long-time communist, political writer and thinker who had among many other activities drafted the Freedom Charter. All of these comrades were either on the High Command or were political advisers. Even among such close comrades, who had known each other and had worked together for years, arriving at joint decisions was no simple automatic process. Joe argued in favour because even though there are no significant forest areas in South Africa the Boers had fought the British for four years in a guerrilla struggle in the Anglo-Boer War at the turn of the 20th century. Rusty said for those opposed to the plan that was true but the Boers had been beaten by a more powerful state, Great Britain, with troops and resources from its world-wide empire. We could expect the powerful western states to support apartheid South Africa. One could of course argue that the Soviet Bloc would be there to support our struggle and thus might neutralise the West. Look at Cuba, for example. Wilton Mkwayi, later, in prison, told Ahmed Kathrada that he and Raymond would have beaten him up if he had continued to oppose Operation Mayibuye. They have passed away and I cannot ask them if they would really have sought to resolve such an issue by violence against a comrade or if the thought was an expression of their frustration at not being able to convince him of the validity of the plan. In the end this argument was not resolved because we were arrested.
In 1963 at Rivonia, before our arrest, the disagreement over sending everyone away for training continued. History - and our common sense - told some of us that an armed liberation struggle was a political struggle that required support from the mass of the people if it was to succeed. Where there is no jungle for the guerrillas to hide in, it is the mass of the people who must become their jungle, hiding them, supplying them and supporting them in every way. In later years we saw that isolated acts of violence did not develop mass support. The Red Army Faction in Germany, the Italian Red Brigades and Che Guevara’s guerrilla incursion into Bolivia all failed because of this fundamental inability to win the support of the mass of the people. While there was agreement in MK on the general idea of an armed struggle, how to move forward was less clear. My own view and that of our Logistics Committee was that we would need weapons and explosives and therefore I would set about making them and training others how to do so. The “militarists”, as I thought of them, despite their long political campaigning history, or because of it, were impatient and determined to launch an armed uprising. There is a difference between adding a component of armed struggle to a political situation such as the one we confronted and believing that the answer lay in military action alone. I do not consider myself a militarist but a political activist with armed struggle as a particular kind of political activity.
Many young people fled the country and the training of fighters abroad continued in the new situation. Ultimately, we had many thousands of trained and armed soldiers based in Angola and Mozambique. I believe that, even though they were not able to return in large numbers to wage war, there were some spectacular special operations. More strategically, the presence of these armed forces required the apartheid state to wage war on its neighbours, especially Angola, to stop our MK warriors together with the Peoples Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) from wresting that country from South Africa’s occupation. That in turn would have opened huge lengths of frontier to attack and as routes for infiltration. The same is true of independent Mozambique and the other “front-line states”. The effect was to drain the apartheid economy because of the size of the armed forces they had to maintain. In addition, every young white man had to do military service of two years and then a further part-time total of two years. Soldiers eat but do not produce and that results in huge inflation. In the end, apartheid South Africa was bankrupted by trying to maintain itself in the face of our multi-pronged sustained attacks of political, trade union, international isolation and military action against the system.
Ultimately, the cost in human lives of young whites killed or maimed in the “operational zone” in the neighbouring countries caused huge demoralisation. The battles in the streets of South Africa’s black townships, in the face of the political uprising of our people, compelled the apartheid state to recognise that it could not continue. The forms of struggle changed throughout the 30 year after our arrest and the argument about Operation Mayibuye is of historic interest now. It is a matter of pride for us, the old veterans, that we made the transition from a purely peaceful politics, of pleading and protest, to a politics that included the armed struggle, together with all the forms of internal political campaigning and mass action, plus international solidarity.
The last meeting of the High Command at Liliesleaf was one too many. It took place because Rusty Bernstein, who was a long-time activist and represented the Communist Party on the High Command, was subject to a house arrest order. He had to report to the police between 12 and 1pm every day and be home by six o’clock on weekdays and by one o’clock in the afternoon on Saturdays and Sundays and holidays. At the previous meeting held on a Saturday they could not agree on another venue. Rusty had to leave or face imprisonment for not being home in time. As a last resort they agreed to meet at Liliesleaf one last time. Walter Sisulu also had a reason for being there. He had a distinctive gap between his front teeth and his disguise required a denture to be made to change his appearance. Arthur Goldreich arranged for his brother-in-law, Reeve Arenstein, a dentist, to meet Walter on that fateful day at Liliesleaf. He took the dental impressions and left.
The meeting in the thatched cottage started almost immediately - and then the police raided. We had earlier taken the decision not to bring people who were not living underground to the place where others were living in hiding. Too many people did not adhere to this decision and knew of or had been to Liliesleaf farm. The security risks were great. We urgently needed a different place and the task of buying somewhere new was given to me because I could legally buy property. Walter, Govan, Raymond, Wilton, and I had moved to the new dwelling in the Travallyn Agricultural Holdings. It was a quite remote area in the Krugersdorp district with narrow country roads which served our purposes because there was little passing traffic. We were insistent that no others would be brought there. This created a problem of where to meet with those who were “above ground”. It was important to maintain contact because it is too easy for those underground to become an isolated clique, out of touch with reality and the others.
Rusty had seen unusual activity at the local police station when he drove by and so had I when we drove past it in our new Minibus, with its pretty blue curtains hiding my important leaders from view as we drove from Krugersdorp to Liliesleaf in Rivonia. What we had seen was a rather shabby looking van and a few civilians outside the police station and thought nothing of it. In fact, it was the security police in a van marked “Laundry” and they were preparing to raid us. On the way from Krugersdorp we discussed what name we could give our new place. I suggested SHUFISA. The others asked why. They said it sounded like a Xhosa word but they did not know it. The reason was that it related not to Zulu at all but to General Eisenhower, who called his World War Two headquarters SHAFE – Supreme Headquarters Allied Forces in Europe. Ours was the Supreme Headquarters United Front In South Africa. There was a huge shout of laughter on their hearing this, from all except Walter who rather seriously said that we still had to develop the united front.
To this day we are not sure how the police found us at Liliesleaf - and even though “we” now control the records and archives of the security forces, nobody has revealed the details. Who knows? Who knows? It was and is all very strange. What is interesting is that our National Intelligence people, who are our comrades, will not reveal how we were caught. I am sure that the information would all have gone into the files. Intelligence agencies are secretive by nature and do not want to be seen to be leaking information. They want their own operatives to know that the organisation can be trusted. Maybe there is an old cop or agent or infiltrator from the old days who is still working there and he is useful. So they do not want to betray confidential matters and they do not want to put such a person on trial. He was not the real enemy; it was the politicians who gave him his marching orders about whom he should be after and who should be prosecuted. Perhaps it was information from agents of another country, given either officially or unofficially, that led them to us.
Nicholas Wolpe, son of the Harold Wolpe who was one of the co-conspirators named in our trial, is Director of the Lilliesleaf Trust. With the help of researchers he has uncovered documents in the British official archives that show that British Intelligence had us under surveillance by an agent who lived in a nearby caravan park. We know that foreign agents were active because it is known that Nelson Mandela was betrayed by the United States CIA in exchange for one of their South African operatives who had been arrested. However, we also have to reckon with other issues. All our underground activists had been well-known political activists and were well-known to the security police and we were still operating partly openly and partly secretly. That transition phase from fully legal to fully underground is difficult to achieve.
There were frequent meetings with people coming to Liliesleaf Farm from various parts of the country. Ahmed Kathrada says it was really a serious problem to deal with the constant breaches of security. Bruno Mtolo from the Durban Regional Command of MK had stayed there. He became the state’s star witness in the Rivonia trial. He told the court that the police drove him around Johannesburg until he found the place for them. That might not be true, rather a story used by the police to divert attention from the real source of the information. Was it, inadvertently, Bram Fischer or Joe Slovo who frequently came there and who could have been followed to Liliesleaf? Could it have been Arthur’s brother-in-law, the dentist, whose visits betrayed us? I cannot find a motive and neither Arthur’s sister nor her husband seemed ill at ease when I met them later after my release. I wonder now if sending the money I had borrowed from Basil Jaffe back to him by a circuitous and I thought safe route, led to me being traced. I don’t think so because the cops delighted in letting me know how much they knew about me and my contacts and he was never mentioned.
The foundry man and the wooden box maker and the landlady were found by the police because their names were in the notebook I was unable to get rid of when the police entered the house. I rushed for the toilet but there were policemen everywhere and they grabbed me. Maybe somebody tipped off the police because I was new in the area and they thought I was behaving suspiciously. That might have led to me being followed. The police certainly did not know who I was when I was arrested and they were not expecting to find me there. I had been using false names. One of them was Charles Barnard, chosen because I needed a name that fitted a white South African who might be an English or an Afrikaans speaker. The name was picked out of the phone book. Arthur Goldreich, who spoke Afrikaans fluently, telephoned that person, pretending to be a government official. Mr Barnard was asked for his birth certificate because, so went the story, there was a problem with his identity card. ID cards had only recently been introduced and we were trying to build documentation for me. Mr Barnard was very embarrassed. Out of the whole of Johannesburg we had managed to pick a man whose birth certificate said “illegitimate” on it! His mother and father were not married and so he had not applied for an ID document. But this only emerged after our arrest. It did not lead the police to me or to us.
When I was arrested I said I was Charles Barnard, Irrigation Engineer. Then I realised that if I retained my anonymity, I might just disappear. Nobody would know who I was and I would be helpless in the hands of the police, with nobody outside knowing what had happened to me. So I gave them my real name. They insisted I was Goldreich. I was from Cape Town and these were Johannesburg cops. A security policeman who had raided my home in Cape Town a number of times was brought in. I was wearing some kind of disguise, with funny little glasses, and my hair was combed over my head to hide my bald forehead. After what seemed a long time, he asked: “Are you Goldberg?” He really asked me the question because he was uncertain. With great relief I exclaimed: “Yes! Tell them who I am.”
Three months in solitary
The cold winter’s afternoon seemed to be becoming very much colder. In the courtyard of the prison I looked out over the battlements at the dark evening sky, knowing that it would be a very long time before I would be able to see an open sky again. Walter, Govan, Raymond Mhlaba Rusty, and I were taken to the Fort, an old prison in the heart of Johannesburg, now an historic monument and the site of our new Constitutional Court. Arthur and Hazel, Bob Hepple and the farm workers and the domestic worker Edith Ngopani were taken to Marshall Square police station in Johannesburg. At the Fort we were separated by race. Rusty and I were taken to the white part of the prison and locked up together, but then quickly separated. It was a long first night but I did sleep and found that escape into sleep was a good defence mechanism. A day or two later we were loaded into a truck with separate compartments for black and white prisoners and driven at breakneck speed to Pretoria. The truck’s spare wheel was in our little compartment and it bounced around dangerously. We were lucky not to be injured by it. (Once, during the trial, Rusty and I were again transported in this little compartment at the front of the prisoner compartments. To avoid being soaked by rain we were allowed to join our comrades in the back compartment which was dry. And so apartheid was broken for the duration of the ride.)
Pretoria Prison was built before the end of the 19th century – and hadn’t improved with age. It was a rough place to settle into, with a harsh routine of sleeping on thin mats on the floor; of eating from chipped enamel bowls and drinking a brew that was called coffee but tasted like the burnt maize and chicory which were its main constituents; of using a toilet pot that stank and had to be emptied every morning and evening until the smell of excrement and carbolic disinfectant became the standard smell of the prison air; and filthy blankets; and prison guards who were only too keen to obey the security police’s policy of intimidating us. We soon discovered that there were three white politicals in our part of the prison on the floor above us. They were Jock Strachan, Ben Turok and Jack Tarshish, each already serving political sentences. Jock and Ben had each been sentenced to three years and Jack to 12 years imprisonment for sabotage activities involving explosives. Jock had been the first of our weapons’ makers in Port Elizabeth and Ben had been involved with a bomb that was planted at a post office in Johannesburg. A piece of wrapping paper was found with his finger prints on it and, despite his extremely plausible explanation for that, he took the blame for the carelessness of another comrade. His only certain way out was to have named that comrade. Ben held his silence and served his full three years, saving his comrade (Jack Hodgson) from prison.
Jack Tarshish had been asked by Govan Mbeki, who chose to by-pass the Western Cape MK regional command, to transport explosives to Cape Town. Jack had enlisted an old World War Two air force friend to fly the dynamite down in his luggage on a passenger plane. The friend got cold feet at the last moment and told the police what was happening. Jack was arrested when receiving a suitcase of dummy explosives prepared by the security police. Because the detonators were ostensibly packed with the dynamite, even though Jack had told his friend they were to be carried separately, the judge said Jack had endangered the plane and all on board and gave him the maximum sentence of 12 years under the Explosives Act. He was fortunate that the specific security laws had not yet been enacted because he would surely have got a heavier sentence, maybe even the death sentence. Jock Strachan had been convicted under the Explosives Act for making the explosives used by MK in Port Elizabeth.
At night, after the warders had left our section of the prison, I would hear a gentle tapping on the ceiling of my cell. Slowly the sounds began to make sense. Jock, in the cell above me, was tapping out a simple code: 1=a, 2=b . . . 5=e all the way to 26=z. Rusty in the cell next to me would tap with one finger very lightly; so lightly that I had have my ear against the wall to hear it. We became very fast and proficient at our tapping and, crucially, the sense of utter aloneness was lost. It took some time for the security police to start their interrogations. The prison officers in daily charge of us were very strict about not letting us talk to each other during exercise periods in the courtyard. We learnt what all prisoners learn to do: talk to each other when our backs were turned to the guards as we walked up and down in the exercise yard. At weekends the guards, different ones, were much more relaxed and indeed hostile to the kind of pressure we were being subjected to.
My interrogators were the notorious florid and burly Captain Swanepoel and his Sergeant van Zyl, who looked like a Reformed Church dominee in his black suit and white shirt and tie with its tight little knot at the throat. They started off quite gently, asking me to make a statement about acts of sabotage. I declined. They asked me to sign a statement saying that I declined to make a statement. I declined. They came back and went through the same procedure and then told me what they knew. For example, that a certain Goldberg had flown to Johannesburg on the day I had left home and they wanted to know where I had gone. I did not tell them I had travelled by train under a false name. In subsequent sessions they became more aggressive. The questions they asked showed that comrades in Cape Town and Johannesburg were talking. The cops knew more and more about the training camp at Mamre. They said someone had given me a pistol. Well, one had been offered to me and I had declined to take it because it was merely the body of the weapon, without any of its inner workings and I did not trust the person who had offered it. More and more I sweated at their increasingly detailed knowledge. The pressure that puts on you is enormous, all the more so when your interrogator has his revolver on the table in front of him, aimed at you, as he plays with the trigger, asking questions that make it quite clear that you’re going to be convicted under a law that carries the possibility of the death penalty. That possibility becomes all the more real when they state, quite straightforwardly, that they are going to hang you. The reality of the Sabotage Act we had protested against arose very starkly before us.
“One of your people is going to hang you,” my interrogators told me. “One of my people? What does that mean?” “The Prosecutor, Dr Yutar, is a Jew and he will see to it that you hang!” Later, during the trial, I discovered that Yutar really did consider me his personal enemy, seeking to present himself as the loyal apartheid-supporting Jew who served his masters well, probably in the hope of getting promotion.
I hoped that my underground work in Johannesburg had been adequately concealed and would not be discovered by the police. For example, I received clothes including a black jacket. From that I knew that Wilton Mkwayi, who was not at Rivonia on the day of the raid, must have been back to our new place at Travallyn because only he could have sent the jacket to me. So when the jacket came I thought: “Oh, that’s wonderful. Everything has been cleaned out.” I was wrong. There was, in fact, a mass of documentary evidence that turned up in our trial. This included ANC files of correspondence and reports that Wilton had not been able to take away. There were also my documents relating to arms production and the kind of chicken farm we needed to buy as a cover for the weapons production. During our detention Bob Hepple, the advocate with a keen legal mind, insisted that there was no way for us round the security legislation. Whatever evidence they found by whatever means, including torture, could and would be used against us. The issue, Bob pointed out with his usual coolness, was that evidence obtained by torture was fundamentally unsafe because people lie to avoid further pain. The advice of our lawyers, long before we were arrested, was that we should give our names and addresses and no more - which was, they insisted, the best way of not incriminating yourself or others.
But this is not so easy to sustain as the pressure grows and you know that they are lying about some things, guessing about others. Was it wrong of me, I wonder, to say that “H” Festenstein was never at meetings? Was it wrong to say that Hazel Goldreich was a lovely hostess but had not a clue about politics? I am sorry to have maligned Hazel but, at the time, it seemed a necessary thing to say to protect her. Hilliard Festenstein, always known as “H”, arrived at Liliesleaf on the evening we were caught and he too was arrested, held at a police station for some weeks, then joined to us in Pretoria Local prison. He basically talked his way out of his detention. Though he was the medical doctor on our MK Logistics Committee, there was no evidence of this and no one betrayed him. I had known him in Cape Town and, looking through the security police’s thick files on me, they insisted that I had attended meetings of the Congress of Democrats in his flat. I said H was never there because he was doing his internship as a junior doctor and was too exhausted to be involved in anything outside a hospital. It was his wife Iris who was the activist. They believed me! She, cleverly, left Johannesburg for London immediately H had been arrested so it was safe for him, and me, to blame her for all and every indication of political activity there might have been found in their flat.
What the interrogators told me showed that they were getting nearer and nearer to what I was withholding – being on the MK Regional Command in Cape Town and the High Command in Johannesburg.
An awful moment came when the interrogators told me it was okay for me to talk about “your comrade”, Looksmart Ngudle from Cape Town, because he was dead and I could not do any harm to him. Angrily I accused them of murdering him. They denied having anything to do with him at all but they threatened to hand me over to the people who did interrogate him and “they will deal with you.” The threat of death was clear. Back in my cell I cut a little piece of black cloth from inside the jacket and put it on my shirt as a sign of mourning for my comrade. At the next interrogation they said: “Has somebody in your family died? You are mourning Comrade Looksmart. So you’ve got kaffirs in your family,” they sneered. And so I had confirmation of the death of Looksmart, the first comrade to be murdered in detention. Being tough was the right thing to do because they then offered me coffee.
“What’s this about?” I asked. “You’re not going to talk to us today so you might as well just have some coffee.” Clearly it was “good cop, bad cop” time they were playing. It was not a good time. Then suddenly they removed me to a remote prison at Vereeniging, some 50 kilometres south east of Johannesburg. At the same time they shifted Bob away to a separate prison for interrogation. They felt that we were supporting each other and would be more vulnerable in total isolation. Bob later told us that his father, Alex Hepple the former MP from the white Labour Party (by then no longer existing), had been to see the Minister of Justice, B.J. Vorster, later President of apartheid South Africa. Vorster boasted that his security police swore their allegiance not to the state but to him as Minister and they would see to it that Bob would be hanged. Vorster had passed on this choice piece of information to the father who passed it on, putting enormous pressure on his son. Later still, Bob told us that he was negotiating with the police to become a witness for the prosecution in exchange for indemnity from prosecution. Rusty commented: “Bob, if you do that, your friends and comrades will cross the street to avoid greeting you.”
In Vereeniging I discovered that, with brute force and a little ingenuity, I could open my cell. If I did this during the lunch-break, when most of the warders went off duty, I could make a run for the copse of trees across the way and then hitchhike to Johannesburg. I managed most of it, including getting the cell door open, pulling myself on to the roof of the single-storey building and finally jumping six metres to the ground. I had hoped for at least ten minutes to get clear of the prison but a criminal prisoner spotted me and raised the alarm. I can still hear the dreadful shriek of the siren and feel the sinking feeling in my stomach as I ran for my life. I had no illusions about the danger of being “shot while trying to escape” and learnt later how lucky I’d been to have been stopped by two prison guards and not by the police. The head of the prison told me he’d been instructed by the security police to shoot on sight but he’d ordered his prison staff to arrest me alive.
Which they did: the one covering me with his rifle while the other kicked my ribs in. I was so disappointed and would have made it, given another couple of minutes. Instead, I ended up shackled in leg irons, the standard response to escapes from prison. With great hostility an angry sergeant put the irons on, hammering the rivets that fixed them around each ankle so that the metal bit viciously into my ankle. I suppose he was trying to punish me for escaping but I think he was also angry that I had interrupted his lunchtime siesta. Warrant Officer Perez took over and did the job painlessly. Later, when the security police came to take me back to the much more secure Pretoria Prison the same sergeant cut into my leg with a hacksaw while removing the rivets to the leg irons. Again WO Perez came to my rescue. The leg irons were being removed because they were on the inventory of the prison and the security police would not promise to return them. Bureaucracy gave me a bit of comfort! WO Perez’s action was in keeping with the man’s attitudes. He would come to fetch me when the security interrogators descended on the prison and take his time about it. “Your friends are here!” he’d say, then add: “Take your time. Wake up properly. Wash your face and when you’re ready I’ll take you through.” A good man.
When I was delivered back to Pretoria Prison I was again put into leg irons. They could be removed with a special key. I discovered that a small piece of wire would also function as this special key but unfortunately I had no opportunity to take them off and make another run for it. They weighed about 5 kilograms and stayed on permanently, covered by canvas trousers like a baby’s romper with buttons down the outside of both legs so that you can take them off to shower, without having the leg irons removed. That particular discomfort lasted a month and I had to re-learn how to walk without the weight of the leg irons. It was quite a hard time, but I was young and fit, and it was bearable. Now I would find it hard to live through.
Esmé was allowed to visit me. The police wanted to show that I was alive and well because comrades who collected my clothes to be washed found some of them ripped and bloodstained and feared that I had been beaten up. Esmé saw me in the leg irons and was shocked. I tried to be cheerful so as not to weaken her too much. She was so strong but I felt for her very deeply. She was also arrested under the 90-day law and interrogated for 38 days, after I’d been detained. They gave her a bad time. I will never know if she broke down and if they got something from her that led them to us. I do not know, but it is possible. The threat they used was one they made to other wives: they threatened to take our children and put them in separate government orphanages so that we would never see them again.
They also offered me money to turn state witness: R6 000, to be exact. I said they must be joking. “How much have you earned since you’ve been here in Johannesburg?” they taunted. “I earn nothing,” I said. “You don’t expect me to earn money from my movement. What are you talking about?” They said: “Well, we can pay more than your organisation” - and they said they would give me a new passport, new documentation, a new life anywhere in the world I liked if I would tell them about every person I had been politically active with, where they lived and everything about them. I made it clear that I would not be a state witness. They insisted they had enough evidence to hang me. I didn’t care what they would do to me, I would never ever have dreamed of becoming a state witness.
What I did dream about was how to have a nervous breakdown, so that they would have to take me to a hospital where it might be easier to escape. But I did not know how to have a nervous breakdown. I didn’t know where to start. How do you pretend that you’re collapsing? I was a tough little devil and have always been. In the middle of our exercise yard there was a strange structure open to the skies with showers on one side; and a urinal and two toilet seats side by side. At one afternoon exercise I sat down next to a person I had previously not met. James “Jimmy” Kantor introduced himself very quietly. He said he was not one of us. He said the police had offered him his release if he informed on us. Therefore he said I should not tell him anything I did not want the police to know. How I admired such integrity! He found the detention and the breakdown of his law practice a great strain. His brother-in-law Harold Wolpe was an activist and Jimmy’s partner in their law firm. Harold escaped together with Arthur Goldreich, Mosie Moolla and “Charlie” Jassat from the Marshall Square police station. The Indian comrades bribed a young policeman to let them escape. Jimmy had a major breakdown and would sit on a stool hunched over with tears streaming down his face as he tried to deal with his distress. His wife was nearing the end of her pregnancy and Jimmy could not cope. He was released on bail and then, again out of vindictiveness and deliberate misinformation, the security police had his bail revoked and he joined us again. Despite all this Jimmy was as staunch as one could wish. Despite not being an activist he would not betray us. I so admire that kind of courage.
Eventually the 90 days came to an end on 8 October 1963. What would happen? Were we going to be released or rearrested and given another 90 days of detention. Amidst a great deal of bustling Rusty, Walter, Govan, Ray, Elias, Andrew, Jimmy, Bob and I were brought together in an office near the front of the prison. Captain Swanepoel told us we were released from 90 days detention. Then, after a moment’s pause, he said we were under arrest for offences under the Sabotage Act, the main security legislation. Once in the exercise yard again Jimmy Kantor loudly greeted us, much to the annoyance of our prison guard. Jimmy the lawyer pre-empted the guard’s threats of punishment for talking to each other by saying that we were awaiting trial prisoners and the 90-day rules no longer applied. Nevertheless, what lay ahead was a huge challenge. I had no idea how I would arrange for the legal defence. I was lucky: I could trust my comrades to do what was necessary.