Publication: Contemporary Africa Database Issued: Date: Unknown Reporter:

Personal Profile :
Mac Maharaj, Former Minister of Transport


Satyandranath R. (Mac) Maharaj


  • ANC Website
  • Contemporary Africa Database
  • City Press



Web Link


Family Name : Maharaj
Given Name : Satyandranath R. (Mac)
Dates : b. 27 Apr 1935
Gender : Male
Country : South Africa


Where there are no dates, positions are ordered alphabetically :

Mac Maharaj's political life uniquely brings together all the strands of the struggle for democracy in South Africa.

Over the past 40 years he has been an activist, a detainee, a political prisoner, an exile, an underground commander, a negotiator and a cabinet minister in South Africa's first democratic government.

Minister of Transport

Mac Maharaj became democratic South Africa's first Minister of Transport on 11 May 1994. In June 1999 he retired from politics and joined the Board of First Rand Bank.

During his years in office he has undertaken a process of fundamentally changing the role of the national Department of Transport (DoT) through the formulation of new policy and the restructuring of his department.

One of his first tasks was a major consultative policy review that culminated in the White Paper on National Transport Policy, which was accepted as government policy in 1995.

This was taken further in the 'Moving South Africa' project which has developed specific goals and strategies for South Africa's transport system for the next 20 years. This ambitious R20-million project developed a set of practical, high-impact, implementable strategic scenarios intended to literally get South Africa moving. Its outcomes will give a fresh and powerful impetus to the DoT's commitment to global competitiveness, economic growth and the prioritisation of basic needs in transport. See the MSA Draft Final Report on this site.

The department is engaged in fundamental restructuring to transform itself from an operator and administrator of bureaucratic detail to a small high-powered policy, strategic planning and regulating body.

On April 1 1998 three autonomous agencies working at arms' length from government were established for national roads (SANRA), maritime safety (SAMSA) and the issuing of cross-border road permits (CBRTA). The fourth agency, which regulates civil aviation (CAA), was established on 1 October 1998. These agencies are commercially run on the 'user pays' principle and their hiving-off has contributed very significantly to the DoT's goal of reducing its size: from 1,400 in 1994 to its target figure of less than 250 by 1999.

Maharaj's department is also at the forefront of innovative change in the way in which government works and delivers. It has introduced annual business plans and performance agreements, which set clear, quantifiable time-frames and performance indicators for all staff members from the Director-General downwards. (See Performance Agreement between the Director General and the Minister of Transport).

The DoT has developed and is implementing a systematic programme of internal transformation which includes making it representative of South Africa's population demographics. This drive is consciously carried over into its approach to its partners in infrastructure development. All tenders given out to the private sector incorporate contractual clauses setting explicit empowerment targets for the historically disadvantaged. The contracts awarded are monitored to ensure that sustainable jobs are created and that the contractors achieve specific mixes of equity participation and/or sub-contracting, skills transfer and human resource development.

Other achievements during Minister Maharaj's term include :

The development of new civil aviation regulations and a White Paper on Airports and Airspace Management.
Negotiation of interim bus contracts to transform the old system of 'bus subsidies for life' to a tendered, competitive system.
The development of South Africa as a maritime nation through work on establishing a Ships' Register.
The gradual stabilisation of the minibus taxi industry through an exhaustive consultation process led by the National Taxi Task Team (NTTT). Its recommendations, accepted by the industry itself and formally endorsed by Government in 1995, paved the way for the implementation of a structured programme of unification and formalisation based on regulation, legalisation, training and economic development. This programme is now being driven by provincial government and the taxi industry itself, through its own recently established national umbrella organisation, the South African Taxi Association Council (SATACO) The establishment of MetroRail as an independent arm of Spoornet and the move away from deficit financing of commuter rail services. The next stage will be the concessioning of certain services and lines to establish models for the provision of efficient, output-driven management within the broader context of an intermodal passenger transport system increasingly driven by the needs and demands of pubic passengers.
Linked to the inter-modal vision is an extensive programme to upgrade more than 50 rail stations throughout South Africa which is being delivered by the South African Rail Commuter Corporation's property arm Intersite. Twenty more of these projects are planned for the 1997/98 financial year.
Minister Maharaj's department initiated the internationally recognised Maputo Development Corridor (MDC) Project with the Mozambican Government. This innovative exercise in regional cooperation has charted the way for private sector financing of major transport infrastructure across national boundaries, while firmly locating road, rail and harbour construction and rehabilitation within the context of multi-disciplinary spatial development initiatives (SDIs). These initiatives draw in private sector investment while government plays a role in unblocking obstacles and forging regional cooperation at the inter-state level. So far the Maputo Corridor Project has attracted investments in excess of R30-billion to the area.

The Minister is also part of a team of Mozambican, Swazi and South African ministers involved in the Lubombo SDI - which will link northern KwaZulu Natal, Swaziland and Mozambique in a program designed to boost tourism and agriculture in the area - and is also involved in the Wild Coast SDI and the port of Coega development initiative in Port Elizabeth.

Minister Maharaj's department broke fresh ground by creating public-private partnerships for the construction of the Witbank-Maputo N4 toll road, the De Beer's Pass development on the N3 between Johannesburg and Durban, and the Platinum Toll Route which will ultimately link the port of Walvis Bay with the harbour of Maputo via the Trans-Kalahari highway.

Together with metropolitan authorities, the DOT is working on urban transport corridors such as Wetton-Lansdowne and Mabopane-Centurion which will begin to unwind the legacy of apartheid urban planning which divided people and cities and created irrationally dispersed, service-starved communities.

As part of his portfolio as the Minister of Transport, Minister Maharaj is the shareholding minister of the Airports Company South Africa (ACSA), the South African Rail Commuter Corporation (SARCC) and the Air Traffic and Navigation Services Company (ATNS).

In September 1997 Minister Maharaj was selected by the New York journal Infrastructure Finance as one of eight government officials from around the world seen as having been "the most innovative and forward thinking in their approach to privatisation and infrastructure development."

In March 1998, he was awarded the CARS trophy by the South African Guild of Motoring Journalist for his department's successful road safety campaign ARRIVE ALIVE, which led to a 33 percent reduction in road deaths between October 1997 and January 1998.

Role in Government

Minister Maharaj serves on three Cabinet Committees: Economic Affairs, the Committee for Office Bearers and the Inter-ministerial Cabinet Committee (IMCC) which oversees the restructuring of state assets. He is also co-chairperson of the transport sector of the National Framework Agreement (NFA) between government and organised labour.

Role in Politics

Prior to joining the Government of National Unity in 1994, Minister Maharaj played a key role in the negotiation process that led the way to South Africa's first democratic elections and its new Constitution.

He was joint secretary in 1994 of the Transitional Executive Council (TEC), whose task was to ensure that in the run-up to the April elections was fair to all parties.

Prior to that he was part of the ANC negotiation team and served as joint negotiation secretary to the multi-party talks at Kempton Park from 1991 to 1993 which brokered the agreements that took South Africa to its first democratic election in 1994.

Minister Maharaj returned to South Africa before the unbanning of the ANC as commander of Operation Vula, a highly secret mobilisation campaign conducted directly under the authority of the then President of the ANC, Oliver Tambo.

Operation Vula brought him back in to South Africa from 1988 to 1990 to coordinate the military and political arms of the ANC's struggle to bring democracy to South Africa. Ironically he was arrested for these activities in June 1990 after he quietly slipped out of the country in May 1990 to returned legally the following month.

He was detained for four months in Johannesburg and charged with terrorism under the Internal Security Act. But the case against him and his co-accused collapsed when they were granted indemnity in March 1991.

After his release he briefly retired from active politics in December 1990, but was re-elected to the National Executive Council (NEC) of the ANC in July 1991 at its first National Conference after its unbanning. In 1994 and again in 1997, at the ANC's National Conferences in Bloemfontein and Mafikeng respectively, he was re-elected in fourth position to the NEC. He has also served on the National Working Committee of the ANC.

Before returning to South Africa to set up Operation Vula, Minister Maharaj had been in exile for 12 years.

He served as secretary of the ANC underground from 1977, with specific responsibility for political mobilisation and organising of the ANC inside South Africa. He went into exile in 1976 after escaping from the house arrest order that was immediately imposed on him in Durban after serving 12 years imprisonment.

Minister Maharaj had been arrested in June 1964. In a trial that became known as the "mini Rivonia Trial" he was charged - together with Wilton Mkwayi and four others - on 177 counts of sabotage under the Sabotage Act and the Unlawful Organisations Act, and in 1965 began his 12 years of imprisonment on Robben Island.

Reports at the time of his trial described him as 'the most tortured political detainee in South Africa".

During his years in exile he was a member of the Revolutionary Council in 1978 and, at the Kabwe conference of 1985, was among the first non-Africans to be elected to the NEC of the ANC (The NEC is the highest body of the ANC after national conference).

He was also a member of the SACP's Political bureau and Central Committee.

He has been a member of the ANC's armed wing uMkhonto weSizwe since its formation in 1961/62 was one of the first cadres to undergo military training in the German Democratic Republic.

After completing his military training he returned to South Africa in 1962 and operated underground until his arrest in July 1964. He was detained twice under the 90-day detention law.

Minister Maharaj's political activism started at the University of Natal where he was forced under apartheid rules to enrol at its 'Non-European' section (UNNE).

He became active in 1953 in the student movement and was elected on to the Students' Representative Council, as well being involved in the Natal Indian Congress.

He worked on New Age with Ruth First, Brian Bunting, M.P. Naicker and Robert Resha, and joined the then-banned SACP in 1958.

He left South Africa to study in England after the law faculty at UNNE was closed down. During his years in Britain he was a founder member and secretary of the South African Freedom Association in 1958 and a founder of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. He was also a member of the National Union of Teachers and active in the British trade union movement, the Movement for Colonial Freedom led by Lord Fenner Brockway and the Communist Party of Great Britain.

He was also part of the UK-based collective of the SACP which coordinated, produced and distributed The African Communist.

Minister Maharaj's long career in politics is motivated by a commitment to removing poverty and engendering equality and equity in our society.

Other Careers

During his many years of political activism, Minister Maharaj's has done a variety of jobs. He has been a truck driver, a petrol attendant, a clerk in a legal firm, a journalist and newspaper manager, and a worker in a quarry, where he first learnt about dynamite. It was an occupation he resumed on Robben Island, where he once again picked up a pick and shovel to work in the infamous limestone quarry. In London he worked as a a teacher, a garbage collector and a canning factory and building site worker.


Sathyandranath Ragunanan (better known as 'Mac') Maharaj was born on 22 April 1935 in Newcastle in KwaZulu-Natal.


He matriculated from St Oswald's High School in Newcastle in 1952.

In 1956 he graduated in absentia from UNNE (boycotting the racially segregated ceremony) with a BA (majoring in Psychology and Native Administration). He then did one year of an LLB in before the 'Non-European' section of the university was closed down.

From August 1959 he studied law for two years at the London School of Economics before leaving to undergo military training in the then German Democratic Republic.

After being sentenced to imprisonment on Robben Island, Minister Maharaj resumed his studies, completing a B Admin degree (majoring in Economics, Public Administration and Political Science) and a further two years towards a BSc from the University of South Africa before his release in 1976.

Family: He is married to Zarina, who has an MSc (Mathematics and Computer Science) from Nottingham University and an MA in Gender and Development from the University of Sussex. She has been a lecturer and a researcher and currently writes a weekly column for a business newspaper on gender issues.

They have two children Amilcar (15) and Sekai Jo (13), who are both at school in Johannesburg.

With acknowledgement to the ANC Website and Contemporary Africa Database.

Maharaj at a Glance

April 22, 1935 Sathyandranath Ragunanan Maharaj is born in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal

1952 Matriculates at St Oswald High School

1956 Maharaj graduates with a BA in psychology and native administration, then obtains an LLB the next year

1958 Joins the banned SACP

1959 Undergoes military training in Germany

1964 Arrested and charged with Wilton Mkwayi and four others on 177 counts of sabotage

1965 He is sentenced to 12 years on Robben Island

1976 Maharaj goes into exile 1985 He becomes one of the first non-Africans to be elected to the ANC NEC at the Kabwe conference

1988 Maharaj returns as commander of Operation Vula

1994 Becomes joint secretary of the Transitional Executive Committee

1994 Becomes minister of transport until 1999

2003 With Mo Shaik, Maharaj accuses Bulelani Ngcuka of being a spy with the code name RS452

2004 The claims against Ngcuka are dismissed

2006 Maharaj files a Pretoria High Court application to stop the NPA using information it obtained when he was interrogated

2007 We report that Maharaj and his wife, Zarina, were questioned over amounts totalling just more than R2 million from Schabir Shaik

With acknowledgement to City Press, 2007-04-22.