Former President Nelson Mandela and Mac Maharaj

Former President Nelson Mandela and Mac Maharaj

Reading about the life of 2016 eThekwini Living Legends awardee, Mac Maharaj, brings two things to mind: there are some people in life who are truly motivated by a calling; and the ANC, operating during apartheid, was indeed a complicated, intelligent machine that involved high level operations beyond what most South Africans were aware of.

Although now retired from politics, Mac Maharaj still considers himself a dedicated member of the ANC. During his some fifty years in politics Maharaj filled a variety of official roles, including being a member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC, the SACP’s Central Committee, and the secretariat of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa). In 1994 Maharaj was appointed to cabinet where he served as Minister of Transport until 1999. In 2011 he was appointed as Spokesperson to President Zuma, a role he held until his retirement from politics in 2015.

But none of this speaks to the sacrifices that Mac Maharaj made, or the dedication he showed to the cause of ‘freedom for all’. Referred to as one of the most tortured men in South Africa, Maharaj knew from an early age just what he was prepared to do in order to stand up for his beliefs. Having spent 12 years on Robben Island, and undergone countless hours of physical torture, Maharaj was not yet defeated. In the late 1980s Maharaj became the South African commander of Operation Vula aimed at facilitating the return of exiled political leaders into the country. With overall command by Oliver Tambo (in exile at the time) and Joe Slovo, Vula was one of the ANC’s most effective operations. A sophisticated, secret arms-importation business, as well as a propaganda and crisis-management operation, Operation Vula opened lines of communication between Tambo in Lusaka and Nelson Mandela, then in Victor Verster prison, and affected the course of the freedom struggle.

On the 7th April 2015 Mac Maharaj announced his official retirement, but his legacy lives on in the countless stories, books and articles published about this great man and his service to his country. One such publication is the small, but by no means inconsequential, booklet that was handed out at a recent exhibition on the life and times of Moses Madhiba. Entitled Leadership Lessons Forged in Prison, the short 30 paged booklet talks about Maharaj’s time on Robben Island, and the valuable lessons he took away with him. Always learning, and forever positive, Mac Maharaja is truly one of our country’s greatest heroes.

Image of Mandela and Maharaja courtesy of