The Unlikely Secret Agent

Ronnie Kasrils

NYU Press (publisher)

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. One August 19th, the dreaded Security Police descended
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

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.

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