Item 1230 - Breakthrough: The Struggles and Secret Talks that Brought Apartheid South Africa to the Negotiating Table

Identity area

Reference code



Breakthrough: The Struggles and Secret Talks that Brought Apartheid South Africa to the Negotiating Table


  • 2021 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

2x Printed matter, 224 pages
Dimensions: 23.1cm x 15cm
Publishers: Penguin Books
Place of Publication: Cape Town
ISBN 978 1 77609 647 3

Context area

Name of creator

(1935 -)

Biographical history

Academic, politician, political and anti-apartheid activist, political prisoner and MP. Leading member of the ANC, SACP and MK. Convicted of sabotage in 1964 and sentenced to twelve years’ imprisonment which he served on Robben Island. Helped to secretly transcribe Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, and smuggled it out of prison when he was released in 1976. Commanded Operation Vulindlela (Vula), an ANC underground operation to establish an internal underground leadership. Maharaj served on the secretariat of CODESA. Minister of transport, 1994–99. Envoy to President Jacob Zuma.

Name of creator

(22 May 1942-)

Biographical history

Anti-apartheid activist and politician. Worked for the ANC in London from 1975. Head of the ANC research division, 1979–88, based at the Centre for African Studies at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique, where, in 1982, he was badly injured when a parcel bomb sent by the apartheid regime exploded in the office, leaving him deaf in one ear and killing his colleague, anti-apartheid activist Ruth First. Minister of posts, telecommunications and broadcasting in Mandela’s government, 1994–96. Minister of environmental affairs and tourism, 1996–99. Minister of arts and culture under President Mbeki, 2004–09.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Purchased by NMF

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Breakthrough sheds new light on the process that led to the formal negotiations. Focusing on the years before 1990, the book reveals the skirmishes that took place away from the public glare, as the principal adversaries engaged in a battle of positions that carved a pathway to the negotiating table. Drawing from material in the prison files of Nelson Mandela, minutes of the meetings of the ANC Constitutional Committee, the NWC and the NEC, notes about the Mells Park talks led by Professor Willie Esterhuyse and Thabo Mbeki, communications between Oliver Tambo and Operation Vula, the Kobie Coetsee Papers, the Broederbond archives and numerous other sources, the authors have pieced together a definitive account of these historic developments. While most accounts of South Africa's transition deal with what happened during the formal negotiations, Breakthrough demonstrates that an account of how the opposing parties reached the negotiating table in the first place is indispensable for an understanding of how South Africa broke free from a spiralling war and began the journey to democracy.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Conditions governing reproduction

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Finding aids

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

NMCM: Reading room

Related units of description

Related descriptions

Notes area


1 book loaned to Mr Verne Harris.

Alternative identifier(s)

Access points

Subject access points

Place access points

Name access points

Genre access points

Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier

Nelson Mandela Foundation

Rules and/or conventions used



Level of detail


Dates of creation revision deletion


  • English



Accession area

Related people and organizations

Related genres

Related places