EXTRACT | The ANC Spy Bible: Surviving across enemy lines

The ANC Spy Bible: Surviving across enemy lines by Moe Shaik is published by Tafelberg Publishers.
The ANC Spy Bible: Surviving across enemy lines by Moe Shaik is published by Tafelberg Publishers.

I was comfortable in the ‘grey’ where nothing was fixed, and everything was changeable. It showed in the way we had survived detention. He was the defiant oak tree that absorbed the full force of the storm.


I was light-headed. I had not been so excited in a long time. I had entered a world that intrigued me. My depression evaporated. I looked around my office and suddenly the work of an optometrist seemed so boring and mundane.

The world of secrets beckoned. I wanted more of it. I could not wait to retrieve the file hidden in the partitioning. That evening I couldn’t sleep.

Insomnia had long been a problem and now it would not release me. I sat alone in the kitchen drinking cup after cup of coffee as I read over the file.

The contents were disturbing yet fascinating in their detail. But aside from the information, there was the question of the Bathroom Officer: what was I to do about him?

All the nagging doubts played out in his offer. Was it a sophisticated trap to ‘turn’ me? Could I be turned? Did the Security Branch think that I was that malleable?

More to the point, what would my comrades think? And then, if we entered this game, we would be undertaking actions for which we had no experience or skill.

There was also the possibility that my superiors might think I was engaging in risky adventurism. To be thought of as an ‘adventurist’ in the underground was a ticket to expulsion.

I went over and over these issues that night and then passed into a troubled sleep from sheer exhaustion.

The next morning, I contacted my immediate leaders, Yunus Mahomed and my brother Yunis, to tell them what had transpired.

We met at Mahomed’s legal chambers downtown. We were all on edge and flustered as we took our seats around the polished table in his consulting room.

‘Tell us what is going on,’ said Mahomed, as cryptic as ever. I had my eyes fixed on the bookshelves that lined the room while I gathered my thoughts.

‘A man has come to see me,’ I began, and within a minute I knew I had their attention.

The underground operated based on ‘democratic centralism’. This meant I had to argue the case before these two men. I had to win their agreement because in the end their decision was the one that counted.

It was with considerable trepidation that I showed them the secret reports and broached the matter of handling a spy.

Much to my relief they agreed that the reports, if true, represented a breakthrough for the ANC. However, they were not as decisive as I’d hoped. 

Instead they asked me to consult with higher authorities, in this instance, ‘the Monna’.

I was glad that it was not an outright rejection, but I was ambivalent. I wanted them to be as excited as me, instead I was met with restraint and caution.

We talked for a few minutes more, then Mahomed left, and Yunis homed in on a matter that troubled me as much as him. The matter

of trust.

I outlined my relationship with the Bathroom Officer over the months of my detention but the end of that still came down to Yunis’s question: ‘Do you trust him?’

I said I did. That I thought he was genuine.

But Yunis pushed to know more. Without directly saying it, he wanted to raise the issue of his torture. This made me nervous. According to family rules we had not spoken of the deprivations we’d each endured.

I was afraid of our fragilities and where such discussions might lead. I went for the obvious. ‘He said you were strong and that he is helping us because of what they did to you. He mentioned something about mom. I think he liked her.’

Yunis kept silent. There was pain in his eyes: I knew he was reliving his torture. Smiling pensively and speaking slowly he told me how the Bathroom Officer had come to his assistance.

As I listened, his words reinforced my intuitive and developing trust in the man who would be our mole.

That discussion was the closest we had each come to talking about our ordeals; and just as I thought we were about to plunge deeper,

Yunis pulled back, regained his resilient control and changed track.

‘This is dangerous stuff you will be doing. Are you sure you can handle it?’

That caught me off-balance and I had to admit to being a little fearful of any clandestine activity.

Yunis leant towards me. ‘You know that if the Security Branch finds out, they will kill you.’

I knew this all too well, but this was an opportunity that we could not walk away from. ‘Look,’ I said, hesitating…

‘Go on,’ said Yunis.

‘. . . It fascinates me,’ I admitted, somewhat embarrassed by my confession.

‘It damn well shows,’ he responded. ‘So?’

‘So, yes, engage with him. See what comes of it. But don’t take any unnecessary risks. You’re entering a dangerous world. You must

be cautious in everything, in every thing.’ His tone was no longer brotherly, he had become my leader.

I promised to take every precaution. ‘Don’t worry about me,’ I reassured him. ‘I’ll be okay.’

We got up to say goodbye and he put a hand on my arm. ‘One more thing: Mahomed and I think that if you get the go-ahead from the Monna, you should assume leadership of a specialised unit.’

This surprised me.

‘We will concentrate on the unions and the mass democratic movement. But if this breakthrough is real, it will become the focus of our work, so we think it’s better that you lead your own unit.’

This sounded as if I was being pushed out into a black operation.

‘You’re saying that I am on my own?’

‘No, not at all,’ he shot back. ‘We want you to lead. We will remain at the leadership core supervising the work. I think we can play a better role in the background as a resource to you. If anything goes wrong, I can intervene to pick up the pieces. I know the guy, so it will be easier for me to step in.’ He paused.

‘There is another reason: I have read the file. Some of the reports are shocking. I cannot accept that people in our own ranks are actively working for the other side. I can’t handle that. It disturbs my belief in human beings.’

‘They may have their reasons. It could be blackmail or fear.’

He turned away. ‘I don’t accept that. There is no justification. None.’ This was where Yunis and I differed. His perspectives of life were clearer-cut than mine.

I was comfortable in the ‘grey’ where nothing was fixed, and everything was changeable. It showed in the way we had survived detention. He was the defiant oak tree that absorbed the full force of the storm.

I was the flexible bamboo that bent with the pressure of the storm without breaking.

There is no script on how to survive detention. There is no right or wrong way. Detainees must find their own accommodation with the trauma.

They come to know themselves. They are their own judges. It is in accepting how they survived that they find peace. I left the meeting with Yunis feeling sad. He had always been my lodestar, always there to take care of me, and now he was wishing me well on my journey into the world of secrets.

He was right to do so: the time had come for us to walk different paths.

- This is an extract from The ANC Spy Bible: Surviving across enemy lines by Moe Shaik which is published by Tafelberg Publishers.

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