frontline: the long walk of nelson mandela
the prisoner

Wolfie Kodesh interview EXCERPT

"The Bomb Test"
Tell me about the bomb at the brickworks ...

The bomb. Ja. Well, it was before December 16th of '61, when the whole thing started, the MK started. We weren't sure whether this bomb would work and the one who got the bomb together, was Jack Hodgson. He was a Desert Rat at one time, and he'd been through the war ... It was just like ... a canister ... it was put together by Hodgson with a timing device ... we wanted to see if this would work.

I and my brother owned ... some brickworks ... We were wondering how the hell could we get a safe place for a bomb to go off. I knew that my brother had gone on holiday at the time. So I said I have got the place for it ... there were holes where you got your earth from, to make the bricks. I thought that would be perfect because next door was a big engineering works that also made a terrific row ... So this was the place we were going ... and he insisted that he had to come.

It was the first one that was being tested before '61, and so we went to the brickworks, and there was a man that my brother must have left there to keep watch, a Zulu man ... I was going to give it up. Nelson said, "No, let me speak to him." He went and spoke to him ... to this day I don't know what he said to him, but ... the man went away ... we went there, and put the canister down into the hole, and we were waiting, because of the timing device, and nothing happened. So we had to get down into the hole, bring it up again, and then Hodgson sort of adjusted it. It was put down again in the hole, and ... it must have been a matter of 10 seconds when there was this terrific blast. What we'd also forgotten was that the sand in the hole was loose ... and that went up like dust, like these pictures that you have of an atomic bomb, in a smaller way, of course. But the dust just rose up and we ... God, we thought no, this is not the usual bomb, the sound of a blast ... so we tumbled into the car and drove away ... I was driving, a big '48 Chev, and instead of reversing to get onto the path to go away I just went through the bushes jumping like this ...

But [Mandela] was overjoyed. He was congratulating everyone and congratulating Hodgson, of course, for having succeeded in doing it. Once we knew that this device was okay, and you can see how amateurish it was, that was only the beginning of MK. Afterwards, of course, it became much more sophisticated. He then insisted that Hodgson went round to various other areas, to show them how to do it. But the point about him being there was that he was being sought, you see. But he ... insisted that he had to be there. Nothing you could say to him would change his mind ...

In a sense, even though it was a crazy sort of episode, it was also in it's own crazy way, rather historic.

It was historic. It was, because we didn't have all the facilities that MK had ... later on. This was something devised by Hodgson who could devise anything. He was a magician at that type of thing, and the way to do it. So it was a risky thing. But one thing that we also knew is that if this device went off at any place, it wasn't going to spread out and be very harmful to anybody. Because, it was our policy that under no circumstances were people to be endangered.

Was that Mandela's ... ?

Yes. Mandela's and MK. The high command of MK, ja. Oh yes. And the politicians, particularly the politicians ... when we knew that we going to start on December the 16th, to blast the symbolic places of apartheid, like pass offices, native magistrates courts, and things like that ... post offices and ... the government offices. But we were to do it in such a way that nobody would be hurt, nobody would get killed. So we had to go and sus out a place to find out where there was very little traffic and people around. This we did on every occasion. We would go and have a look night after night after night, sussing out the places that we'd chosen to do. We also got a leaflet out, which ... was posted onto buildings, onto poles in the street and all over, saying that the MK were going to have this armed action against the government, and that in doing so, we were going to go for symbolic things of apartheid, and we were going to make sure, that nobody was hurt or killed. Well, you can do that up to a certain extent, I suppose, but I think that by and large we did it brilliantly. We were able to do it because we took so much trouble to sus places out before any action was taken.

Tell me about Mandela's role behind the decision regarding the formation of MK...

... well, I can only put it this way, that it was made clear to anyone in MK that they were secondary to the struggle. The first and most important side of the struggle was the political side, and they were subject to the political views of the movement. Now although MK was itself separated from the political bodies at the time, nevertheless there were people like Walter Sisulu, like Nelson Mandela, and several others, on the highest command. Then you had several other area commands. I was an area commander. Several of us were chosen because we were ex-soldiers ... So I think that we never, in all the time that MK existed, had anyone who disputed that fact, that they were politicians in soldiers clothes. And that what the politicians said, would have to be the decision, that the movement took over and above the MK.

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