Who Is Mac Maharaj? By Devi Rajab, award winning Columnist

Who is Mac Maharaj? Who was Mac Maharaj? There is a tendency in history to demonism prominent figures that have fallen and view them only in light of their transgressions. Everything else does not matter. One sees this in the life of Lawrence Van der Post once the darling of his followers and whose books now are found languishing at give away prices of less than a loaf of bread in second hand bookstores. He lied, he forged and he made up stories or so the aspersions go.  Salman Rushdie is another example of a fallen anti hero whose earlier writings ought to still be read for their intrinsic value and appreciated as works of art. Instead the man has been tarred and feathered discredited with all his good deeds embroiled with the bad. It is in this regard that I ponder about a man like Mac Maharaj whom I think should not be dismissed as a product of his latter failings alone. He surely was more than being Zuma’s  ‘imbongi’ , his puppy dog who loved licking his master’s wounds as though it were his very own. He is surely more than the man accused of corrupt practices. The Mac Maharaj that his comrades describe is not the same person that we the public know or think we know. He is often remembered for being a crusty but fearless thinker who orchestrated after meticulous calculations how the smuggling of Mandela’s 500 page autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom out of prison by painstakingly transcribing the entire work into 60 foolscap pages. This called for dedication and guts because if he were found out he would have had to pay heavily for it
When is an individual his or her true self?  Perhaps Descartesian logic is applicable in this context. In conducting his famous wax experiments he first considers all the sensible properties of a ball of
wax <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wax>  and points out that all these properties change as the wax is moved closer to a fire. The only properties that necessarily remain are extension, changeability and pliability: I recall sitting under a tree and teaching this course which was a compulsory one for every student from Science and Medicine to Humanities at the University of Lawrence in Kansas. ( I wish this were the case at all our SA universities today). The students were mesmerised:   Let us take, for example, this piece of wax: it has been taken quite freshly from the hive, and it has not yet lost the sweetness of the honey which it contains; it still retains somewhat of the odour of the flowers from which it has been culled; its colour, its figure, its size are apparent; it is hard, cold, easily handled, and if you strike it with the finger, it will emit a sound. Finally all the things which are requisite to cause us distinctly to recognise a body are met with in it. But notice that while I speak and approach the fire what remained of the taste is exhaled, the smell evaporates, the colour alters, the figure is destroyed, the size increases, it becomes liquid, it heats, scarcely can one handle it, and when one strikes it, no sound is emitted. Does the same wax remain after this change?
Lets draw this analogy to human beings like Mac Maharaj and perhaps then we may understand a more holistic personality. Mandela in the forward to the book entitled Shades of Difference: Mac Maharaj and the struggle for SA by Padraig O’Malley describes Mac as an insightful personality whose thinking on any issue broadened the understanding of his comrades strategically. He taught the underground that it must respect rather than simply hate the enemy. “If you hated the enemy, you dismissed him, depersonalised him and as a result you would always underestimate his ability to destroy you. Whatever your feelings, you had to put them aside and remember that the enemy was a clever fellow, not some stupid Boer. Hatred would kill you not the enemy” In battle these insights are crucial and yet history shows how even the great John F Kennedy misjudged the enemy in his battle with Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. But strangely Mac never took his own advice as he was known to be very argumentative with his warders, quick with backchat and barbed remarks, often the bane of his comrade’s lives. He was not an easy person to get along with but they respected his integrity and dedication to his convictions. Perhaps on account of his feisty temperament he was severely tortured significantly more so than any of this comrades. In one instance he had been hung out of a window on the 7th floor of the Grays, suspended by his ankles, first two and then one, nothing but empty space between him and the street below. In many instances prisoners were accidentally or deliberately dropped to their death which was then reported as suicide. What ever happened to the Swanepoel  who Mac and others regarded as the most brutal of all the torturers. Ruth First saw fire in his eyes.  Instead a humane TRC offered amnesty to all these officials.  So which Mac is the real man? The brave dedicated freedom fighter or the spin doctor who underestimated the intelligence of the broader SA population  and forced us to believe his pathetic attempts to cover up for his friend who gave him a job. And all the while we as tax payers had to foot the bill for this idiotic scam.
I would venture to say that as SA we have to see the whole picture and claim responsibility for our past. In doing so I would like to salute Mac Maharaj for being a product of his whole history and not to just dismiss him as Zumas stooge. Surely we owe him more than that. Let wisdom prevail in all matters of judgement.


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