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As Nelson Mandela Turns 93, a Discussion with Anti-Apartheid Freedom Fighter Ronnie Kasrils

Kasrils has just written a book about his wife Eleanor, a Scottish South African anti-apartheid activist, with whom he organize inside and outside South Africa for three decades.

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So, the next morning, Eleanor is waiting for the cell to be unlocked. The nurses do the rounds. The patients then go to the bathroom and go to breakfast. She used the lipstick, rouge on her cheeks. She was a very fair woman and very pale—I mean, to the hunger strike and incarceration. So she rosied her features up. She made the eyebrows very dark. And she had the dress on and had this scarf, managed to get down the passageway to this back door without being seen. And the nurse, the black nurse, had left a basket at that door for her, because all the staff, whether in uniform or in civilian dress, carried these baskets. Eleanor came down the passageway, and there was the basket. And she just hoped and felt the door must be open. And she opened it, and indeed it was.


And that’s how Eleanor Kasrils escaped. Ronnie Kasrils describing the escape of his late wife Eleanor from a mental institution in 1963. She, like Ronnie Kasrils, was a clandestine agent for the ANC, arrested by the secret police in the Durban bookstore where she worked, a year after Nelson Mandela was arrested. Soon after she escaped, she met up with her partner Ronnie Kasrils. They would marry. And for the next 30 years, they would organize inside and outside South Africa.

Ronnie Kasrils has just written a book about his late wife called The Unlikely Secret Agent. Before that, he wrote his own memoir called Armed and Dangerous, which was the sign that the apartheid police put up all over South Africa, looking for Ronnie. He served as chief of intelligence under Thabo Mbeki and deputy defense minister under Nelson Mandela. Yes, the Kasrils were allies of Nelson Mandela. Today has been declared International Mandela Day. It’s Nelson Mandela’s 93rd birthday.

Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, Democracy Now! .

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