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The Unlikely Secret Agent


Winner of South Africa’s top literary prize, the Alan Paton Award, The Unlikely Secret Agent tells the thrilling true story of one woman’s struggle against the apartheid system. It is 1963. South Africa is in crisis and the white state is under siege. On August 19th, the dreaded Security Police descend on Griggs bookstore in downtown Durban and arrest Eleanor, the white daughter of the manager. They threaten to “break her or hang her” if she does not lead them to her lover, “Red” Ronnie Kasrils, who is wanted on suspicion of involvement in recent acts of sabotage, including the toppling of electricity pylons and explosions at a Security Police office in Durban.

But Eleanor has her own secret to conceal: she is, like Ronnie, a clandestine agent for the underground ANC and must protect her handlers and Ronnie at all costs. Astutely, she convinces the police that she is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and, still a prisoner, is relocated to a mental hospital in Pietermaritzburg for assessment. It is here that she plots her escape. . .

This remarkable story of a young woman’s courage and daring at a time of increasing repression in apartheid South Africa is told here for the first time with great verve and élan by Eleanor’s husband, Ronnie Kasrils, who eventually became South Africa’s Minister of Intelligence Services in 2004.

This is a wonderful book about a courageous and extraordinary woman who was highly principled, yet endowed by nature with all the clandestine skills. Ronnie Kasrils tells her story with humility and a pride that the reader can only share.

—John le Carré

Ronnie Kasrils, who served as South Africa’s minister for intelligence services, remembers his late wife and the remarkable life she lived. He paints his portrait with the honesty of a good biographer but always with the bittersweet memory of a great love lost . . . a poignant and beautiful book.

Washington Post

This loving portrait written by Ronnie Kasrils, Eleanor’s husband and later the country’s minister of intelligence services, tells the harrowing and exhilarating story of her arrest and escape . . . an extended eulogy for an activist whose perseverance inspired the ANC movement.

Publishers Weekly

A thriller-like look at one of the harshest periods in South African history.

Kirkus Reviews

A moving tribute to a wonderful person, truly an unlikely secret agent. It made me realize again just how much we owe to so many people for the freedom we enjoy in South Africa.

—Archbishop Desmond Tutu

A moving testimony and a wonderful tribute to a courageous woman—a white woman of privilege—who chose to listen to her conscience under the most trying of circumstances. We as judges were moved by Kasrils’s touchingly told story.

—Dr. Xolela Mangcu, Alan Paton Award judging panel, 2011

Secret acts of great bravery by hundreds of heroic men and women overthrew apartheid—not brilliant secret negotiating, or a change of heart by the white regime’s Western backers. Eleanor Kasrils’s amazing role in this story is told by her husband Ronnie for the first time.… It is a love story, a historical document of great importance, and a terrific tale of a clandestine success.

—Victoria Brittain

Ronnie Kasrils has served in post-apartheid South African governments as Deputy Minister of Defence, Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, and Minister of Intelligence Services. He was a founding member of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress, and is the author of an autobiography titled Armed and Dangerous.

SKU: mrp2778 Categories: , , ,
Topics: Biography Places: Africa

Publication Date: June 2012

Number of Pages: 192

Paperback ISBN: 9781583672778

Cloth ISBN: 9781583673041

eBook ISBN: 9781583672792