“Mac” Maharaj is in NZ for one meeting to promote a new biography of Nelson Mandela.
Hear one of South Africa’s key democracy fighters speak about his extraordinary life – including the 12 years he spent imprisoned on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela.
Mac Maharaj has played a major role in the anti-apartheid struggle, both inside and outside South Africa, and was one of two editorial consultants on the recently published book, Mandela: The Authorised Portrait.
Now a banker and businessman, Maharaj was one of the key players in the South African revolution.
Of Indian/Muslim descent Sathyandranath “Mac” Maharaj was born in Natal South Africa in 1935.
He became active in the liberation struggle in 1953 while at university in Natal.
Maharaj worked on New Age magazine with communists Ruth First and Brian Bunting and joined the then-banned South African Communist Party in 1958.
He soon left South Africa for the UK, where he was a founder of Anti-Apartheid Movement and the South African Freedom Association.
Maharaj was active in the British National Union of Teachers and the British Communist Party and was also part of the UK-based collective of the SACP which produced The African Communist.
After the 1961 Sharpeville shootings, he was asked to return to South Africa, to work underground on a full-time basis in the underground. Before returning he was one of the first South Africans to undergo military training in East Germany.
Maharaj joined the ANC’s underground military wing, Umkonto we Sizwe in May 1962. He was arrested in July 1964, charged with no less than 177 acts of sabotage and sentenced to 12 years on Robben Island.
After release in 1976, he travelled to Lusaka to work in the ANC’s HQ in exile. He became the secretary of the underground section of the ANC in 1977 and was elected to the ANC’s National Executive Committee in 1985.
Maharaj was also a member of the of the SACP’s political bureau and central committee.
Maharaj officially returned to South Africa in May 1990 and was arrested in July as the commander of the ANC’s underground terrorist campaign, Operation Vula.
Maharaj and eight others were charged with terrorism and illegal possession of arms, ammunition and explosives. It was alleged that they had conspired to create a national underground network or “revolutionary army” to seize power should negotiations with the government fail.
The case against Maharaj and his comrades collapsed when they were granted indemnity.
After his release he played a major role in the negotations to hold multi party elections. He was joint secretary in 1994 of the Transitional Executive Council whose task was to ensure that the April elections was fair to all parties
Maharaj was elected to Parliament on the ANC ticket in 1994 and was appointed Minister of Transport.
He resigned in 1999 and since involved himself in some controversial business deals.