Mac Maharaj pays tribute to Dr Rajan Pillay, who bit the bullet to protect Operation Vula

Mac Maharaj. File picture

Mac Maharaj. File picture

Published Dec 27, 2022


Durban – A former Operation Vula lead operative who is also a former minister and presidential spokesperson, Mac Maharaj, has paid a special tribute to the fallen Dr Rajan Pillay, an ex-MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe) combatant who took part in the daring operation linked to liberation.

Dr Pillay recently passed away and will be buried in Kimberley in the Northern Cape on Saturday morning.

Pillay was originally from Durban, but in the early days of democracy he moved his family to Kimberley, where he lived until he drew his last breath.

He was a key member of Operation Vula, a secret operation of the ANC which started around 1986 while the negotiations with the apartheid government were still going on – albeit secretly.

The operation was led by General Simphiwe Nyanda and Maharaj (both from MK) and it was said only a few knew about it in the ANC, except top leaders like the late Oliver Tambo.

The aim of the operation was to bring weapons and exiled leaders into the country while the apartheid authorities were unaware and it was meant to inflict the last blow on the government of the day should negotiations fail.

Speaking to IOL on Tuesday about Dr Pillay, Maharaj said he carried out all his duties under the banner of the operation with all the due diligence required of him.

“He was completely devoted to the struggle for freedom, and that was always the case with him,” Maharaj said.

Maharaj recalled an incident during the operation where the late Dr Rajan took the bullet in order to save him and Nyanda and the entire operation.

He said they had rented a front house in Chatsworth in Durban for the operation and the apartheid security apparatus got to know about it.

Through their informers within the apartheid apparatus, they got to know that three operatives were tasked with monitoring the house and were in the vicinity.

He said at some point they decided to kill the three operatives since they were known to them, but they backed off because they did not want the apartheid government to be alarmed and know that they had been infiltrated by freedom fighters.

“The plan to kill them was discussed and we then decided to drop it because the apartheid government would have known that it had been infiltrated,” he told IOL.

Maharaj said they knew about the plan to arrest Pillay for the front house and they asked him to co-operate and ensure that it was not revealed that he (Maharaj) and Nyanda were in the country implementing Operation Vula.

“He co-operated and agreed to go to prison, even though at that time there was a risk that he may not come out alive or he would be tortured while in prison.

“That’s the kind of person he was … always ready to sacrifice. He lived that life even later in life in a free South Africa,” Maharaj said of Pillay.

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