Ronnie Kasrils

Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory

Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory


  • Title: Ronnie Kasrils
  • Story: 1996 My moment took place in a modest room of a Durban safe house in July 1962. The Natal Command of Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK) had assembled there with no idea whom we were to meet. Present were Curnick Ndlovu, the regional commander, his deputy Billy Nair, a youngish trade unionist Bruno Mtolo and myself. An imposing, bearded man, with a grave expression, wearing khaki trousers and shirt, was ushered in. We jumped to our feet to shake hands and pat his back. It was none other than our national commander-in-chief Nelson Mandela. Having disappeared the year before to prepare for the underground struggle and MKs armed actions, the "Black Pimpernell", as he was referred to in the press, had slipped back into the country after an historic visit abroad. He spoke with us for a good hour, about the independence struggles sweeping Africa, the inspiration of having met leaders of Algeria's liberation movement, and the need to step up the armed struggle at home. He encouraged us to get physically fit, recruit the most reliable and daring cadres, focus on training and reconnaissance of targets, and step up our actions. He stressed studying the methods of guerrilla warfare such as in Algeria, Cuba and Cyprus, and referred to the importance of African resistance heroes such as Kenya's Dedan Kimathi. I was bold enough to make reference to the rural Transkei and forested Wild Coast as areas "tailor-made" for guerrilla struggle and enquired how he thought our sabotage campaign might develop into higher methods of people's war. I was somewhat disappointed because he was quite cursory in his response. Much later I surmised that this had been because MK’s High Command was only then grappling at the Rivonia Headquarters with Operation Mayibuye and this very process. He took notes of our individual biographies and only appeared to really concentrate on Bruno Mtolo who had recently been brought onto our command. As fate turned out Mtolo later became a traitor and gave evidence against Mandela and the leadership in the 1964 Rivonia Trial. Madiba was captured a week after our Durban meeting at a police road block -- to our immense distress. It emerged that he had far too many meetings with activists in the province. He had also paid a special visit to Chief Albert Luthuli to brief him on his visit to Africa and took pains to assure the ANC President of the need to break with the non-violent methods of the past. Whatever Luthuli's misgivings may have been, my understanding through discussions with leadership was that, he had accepted the development. Mandela's arrest made us strive harder still to develop MKs operations. We stole dynamite from a road construction company and our actions around the country consequently became much more potent. Madiba's courage, and that of the leadership and cadres in general, became the stuff on which we developed the high morale and conviction of MK recruits, and our people in general, through the difficult years. I met him for a second time at an ANC leadership meeting in Soweto in 1990. When he entered the room I had my back to him. I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder and a voice enquiring’ "Is this Ronnie?" I whirled around to see that strong face for the second time in my life and we warmly embraced.  Ronnie Kasrils MK Intelligence Chief in 1983 and Deputy Minister of Defence in Mandela's government (1994-99). He was Water Affairs & Forestry Minister (1999-2004) and Minister for Intelligence (2004-8). 
  • Quote: "I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder and a voice."
  • Type: Photo
  • Original Source: To download a photograph click here
  • Collection: Moments with a Legend