Monday, November 29

‘I was on a list to be fired’ – Sue Dobson, the spy who helped end apartheid | South Africa

TOAs a white South African, Sue Dobson risked arrest, torture and imprisonment for spying on the black nationalist cause during the last days of the brutal apartheid regime. She was a middle-class woman in her 20s when she joined the African National Congress (ANC) and infiltrated the white minority government, even having an affair with a police officer to obtain information, with the full support of her husband. a fellow activist. When his cover was discovered in 1989, he fled to Britain, where he sought political asylum after receiving threats against his life.

Now, for the first time in 30 years, she is ready to speak publicly about her story, that of a “very ordinary” woman who played an extraordinary role in the fight against racism.

She told the Observer: “It is because I am ordinary that I was able to do the work I did because I was not suspected … The ordinary has been my strength, strangely.”

Now 59, after accepting painful memories, he has written a memoir that has inspired a movie even before it is released.

Exclusive access to the manuscript has been granted to British producer Guy de Beaujeu, whose credits include The end of the journey, RC Sherriff’s heartbreaking World War I drama starring Sam Claflin and Paul Bettany.

Had Dobson been arrested, she would have faced up to 15 years in prison and torture. “The charge would be treason,” he said. “South African security chiefs were notorious for their barbaric interrogation routine. Many people died during the interrogations. They were thrown out the windows. They were beaten so badly that they suffered brain damage. There were particularly nasty techniques like electric shocks to the genitals …

“The unfair thing about all this is that they probably would have beaten me, but not as severely as someone of another color. So even in the interrogation rooms, racism was a big problem. “

A South African police officer chases a protester with a sjambok whip
A South African police officer chases a protester with a sjambok whip. Photograph: Gideon Mendel / Corbis / Getty Images

For several years, Dobson passed information to the ANC while working as a journalist for a government support newspaper, The citizen, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, run by the state, and later as an employee of the government information bureau.

Dobson and her then-husband Peter, a computer analyst, had become involved with the ANC through their sister, also an activist.

While Peter accessed information from defense companies linked to the South African government, Dobson was in the field, using dead letter messages, invisible ink and clandestine meetings to share intelligence.

These were techniques the couple had learned in the Soviet Union, having secretly visited for several months for military and intelligence training.

Dobson said: “At that time, the Russians helped people in liberation movements through training. I trained in radio work, explosives, intelligence work. The skills ensured my survival. “

She added: “My mandate from the ANC was to get as close to the government as possible … I went through the security clearances. I had access to the Minister of Internal Affairs, I interviewed the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the late Pik Botha ”.

For several months, she had an affair with a police officer, who confided the information she passed to the ANC: “It was probably the most dangerous point in my job. If I had found out who and what I was, I wouldn’t be having this conversation. Peter was aware of the matter. He understood my motivation. I was not doing that for my own selfish reason, but for something I firmly believed in. “

Black students protesting apartheid
High school students at an anti-apartheid protest, Soweto, Johannesburg, January 1986. Photograph: David Turnley / Corbis / VCG / Getty Images

She impressed her government superiors and was being considered for a position in the office of the president, FW de Klerk, when her cover was discovered. Another security clearance discovered his sister-in-law’s ANC connection.

Under cover of night, Dobson fled to Botswana, where Soviet contacts took her on a plane to London in October 1989: “The Russians saved my life.”

But his ordeal was not over. He struggled financially: “The South African government had taken over everything we had.”

He also feared retaliation: “The royal protection squad attended to me because they believed there was a threat to my life.

“We had a couple of murders of senior ANC officials in Europe and they warned me that I was on a list, that they might fire me …

“We had to be very attentive to things like letter bombs. They had a particularly nasty technique of putting poison in packages, so if the exiles opened something, they would be poisoned. It was very difficult to live a normal life ”.

The movie – titled Burned, inspired by the term for a spy who is revealed, will be filmed next year.

1 Comment


    Having lived through the apartheid regime as a ‘coloured’ person, I never knew how badly we were treated until I wrote my own life story, A Coloured in Full Flight. We simply got on with life with the little given or made available to us.
    Years later, I got to meet and work with all races and tried to fathom how most finished high school when they had struggles communicating effectively in both national languages taught at schools at the time.
    Trying to get into university with 6 subjects, the white kids had more than eight to play with, leaving the non-white at the huge disadvantage.
    I made it out on top in the end.

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