Struggle Days

Those whose partners had to be away from home to be in the front lines to carry South Africa’s struggle for freedom forward were in another struggle of their own: to keep family and home intact by keeping hope alive in the face of uncertainty about the safety and survival of their loved ones, trying to uplift the morale and courage and quell the absent-father syndrome of their children.

This struggle, referred to by Professor Fatima Meer, women's leader, sociologist and author as ‘the 'parallel struggle of the family waged by the women and the children’ has remained largely invisible, even though President Mandela had forthrightly acknowledged it.

In his words, for example 'We are ... indebted to Mac's wife, Zarina, and their children - and to the families of all comrades - for the contribution they made. Were it not for their selfless support when husbands and fathers were away, often in very uncertain circumstances, for their bearing with the uncertainty, for absorbing the pain of loss and the loneliness of separation, our struggle would never have stayed the course. In our absence they became our surrogates, and the contribution they made to the struggle for freedom is no less than ours.' (p.19 of President Mandela's foreword to ’ Shades of Difference - Mac Maharaj and the Struggle for South Africa by University of Massachusetts Professor of History, Padraig O’Malley, Penguin, 2007).

His comments below on the Vula Communucations System - which Zarina clandestinely operated in its initial stages in Zambia before her serious road accident - further highlights the largely invisible role wives played in the freedom struggle.

‘Dancing to a Different Rhythm’ is Zarina's account of her own parallel, invisible struggle, both before South Africa won its freedom from apartheid in 1994, and in the ongoing post- apartheid struggle to make real the democracy as envisioned by President Mandela and his close co-leaders, giants whose goal of a better country for all its people remains a distant dream .


‘Operation Vula's most spectacular achievement - the creation of the communications system that linked Vula in South Africa with Lusaka via London in real time - was a team effort with the bulk of the credit due to Tim Jenkin and his partnership with Ronnie Press, both in London, and the technical expertise of Zarina Maharaj in Lusaka. That three-way collaboration produced a system of communications that eluded the best of the state’s tracking devices‘ writes historian and political biographer Professor Padraig O’Malley of the University of Massachusetts (Boston)‘

In his foreword to O'Malley's biography, President Mandela says of this system, which pre-dated email by a year:

‘It reached into my quarters at Victor Verster Prison, ensuring that my communications with Lusaka were directed through a more secure and quicker channel … [it] extended the boundaries of the struggle., and in doing that transformed the nature of the struggle itself. For the first time ever the ANC was able to connect the various tentacles of the struggle...The communications system…allowed for direct communication between the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the ANC underground structures, and between the underground and Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), creating a synergy among them, allowing each to re-inforce the other in a dynamic context…. ’.

A lone parent of troubled children, Zarina found operating this communications system from Lusaka, and training underground cadres in it use, highly fraught, especially done as it was in the homes allocated to her by her employers, first when she was a 'Technical Co-operation Officer' working with the Zambian Government on behalf of the UK government's Overseas Development Agency (ODA) , and then on behalf of the United Nations Centre for Trade and Development (UNCTAD) working with the Southern Africa Preferential Trade Area (PTA), both positions rewarded with all the perks of diplomatic status, which on occasion she had to access to bridge the lack of funding for the underground Vula project inside South Africa.


As sole breadwinner of the family she was lucky to have paid jobs, but struggled to juggle them as a single parent between her family responsibilities and her clandestine Vula work.

Small wonder she fell asleep at the steering wheel on her way home from her full-time UN job one night while Mac was working underground in South Africa, and woke up two days later in hospital, with 19 bone fractures. And many life fractures to follow…..


While living and working in London, and with a love of singing and poetry, Zarina became a member of Mayibuye, the ANC's London-based cultural unit. Through song and poetry Mayibuye took the message of the South African freedom struggle to the British people. We were soon invited to Europe, where we became a hit too, often being asked to return there to perform. We even cut a long-playing disc.

Zarina's stint with Mayibuye ended when she headed southwards for Mozambique, a much-needed personally liberating experience after London’s stifling, claustrophobic, 'holier-than-thou' exile politics, dominated as it was by the Stalinists in the movement.

Forever etched in her mind is an attempt she made to debate with a leading Stalinist regarding Marxist theory. She'd asked an ANC leader of this ilk to explain why he saw the Marxist theory of history and society as the undisputed 'winning horse' in the race of social theories. His rebuke: 'It's the ONLY horse in the race.'!! This intolerance shocked her to the core because it simply shut out any meaningful debate about the validity of other paradigms and theories of history and society. (See also 'Publications' under Zarina's article 'Feminism and the Changing Boundaries of Knowledge' as well as pp 78-82 of 'Dancing to a Different Rhythm ')

So ask yourself, Kasrils, how the 'only horse in the race' could have ended up losing the race? Do you continue to understand such a blinkered paradigm of history and society as generating the only 'objective historical and social truths about the world'?


Performing with Mayibuye in Stockholm, Sweden


Protesting apartheid murders in London in the 1970’s


With friends in London. Dulcie September (left) later assassinated In Paris by apartheid agents


With colleagues and friends in Mozambique


With Mac at the Indian Ocean, Zarina's 'backyard' in Maputo.