A husband tells the story of his wife’s detention and their daring escape into exile from apartheid-era South Africa.
On Aug. 19, 1963, police from South Africa’s notorious Security Branch entered a bookstore in Durban and arrested Eleanor, the daughter of the owners. This book, which won the prestigious Alan Paton Award, tells the harrowing story of Eleanor’s arrest, detainment and escape into exile. At the time Eleanor was dating Kasrils (Armed and Dangerous: My Undercover Struggle Against Apartheid, 1993), the book’s author who was the Durban Security Police’s target at the time of the raid on the bookstore. They hoped she’d give them precious information leading to the arrest of Kasrils and his colleagues. Little did they know that Eleanor had been quietly operating in a series of sabotage campaigns against the government. The book covers a brief period of time, reconstructing Eleanor’s arrest, detainment in a Durban jail and the menacing questioning she endured, her placement in a mental institution after she engaged in a hunger strike and her subsequent escape and flight into exile to Bechuanaland (present-day Botswana) and then Tanzania. As readers will learn in the book’s appendix—a touching memorial to Eleanor, who died of a stroke in November 2009—the couple soon moved on to London where they became prominent members of the African National Congress in exile. They returned to South Africa in 1990, and Kasrils served in a number of cabinet positions in post-apartheid governments. The book serves as something of a valentine to the author’s beloved wife and a useful reminder of just how draconian the apartheid state and its security apparatus could be.
A thriller-like look at one of the harshest periods in South African history.