Book review: Armed and Dangerous (From Undercover Struggles to Freedom)

Title: Armed and Dangerous (From Undercover Struggles to Freedom)
Author: Ronnie Kasrils
Publisher: Jacana Media
Reviewer: Sandra Hlungwani
ISBN: 978-1-4314-0795-8
Armed and Dangerous is one of the earliest struggle memoirs to deal from a personal perspective with the formation and development of Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), and the remarkable role it played in helping to bring about the downfall of apartheid. Armed and Dangerous, written by struggle veteran,   Ronnie Kasrils was first published in 1993.
Kasrils has now published a fourth revised edition, with a first-hand account of his years in both the liberation struggle and in government. He gives an insider’s account of the workings of MK.
The book which has been translated into Spanish, Russian, and German, was dedicated to the born-frees the generation born after the attainment of a democratic South Africa in 1994, to help them understand the struggle to make South Africa a better place for all who live in it.
Kasrils was dubbed ‘The Red Pimpernel’ by the South African press and public for slipping in and out of South Africa to run secret missions. He details how he narrowly escaped arrest and detention in several close shaves with security forces. He draws the line between the past and the present in ways that are vital and clearer for the “born frees” generation.
The foreword speaks of his disillusionment with the party and the African National Congress (ANC). His foreword is a warning to the ‘born-frees’ saying the government should be doing better “…modern South Africa is not a perfect society. Full equality – social and economic – does not exist, and control of the country’s wealth remains in the hands of a few, so new challenges and frustrations arise”.
In his introduction, Kasrils writes about the ANC’s “Faustian moment” amongst other things, saying that, “From 1991 to 1996 the battle for the ANC’s soul got under way, and was eventually lost to corporate power”.
The moment came when the ANC took a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which Kasrils says was a result of the party letting doubt take over: “Inexcusably, we had lost faith in the ability of our own revolutionary masses to overcome all obstacles”.
The book is divided in to four parts with each part having several chapters.
Part 1 gives a detailed account of (1938-1963) activities. It talks of how Kasrils was introduced and recruited for the (ANC) but he admits that emotional revulsion for racism had drawn him into the ANC. He begins by expounding on the Sharpville Massacre, the arrests, the formation of MK and how many were bulldozed into oblivion by apartheid’s forced removal policy, many of whom ended up in exile.
Part 2 offers an interesting reflection on the 1963-1989 period in exile in several countries including Africa and United Kingdom (UK).
Kasrils provides a full range of underground techniques ranging from codes, blind meetings, dead drops, brush etc. When comrades joined the underground they were renamed to protect individuals and the movement: Kasrils was named Roy while others such as Che O’Gara (January Masilela), Siphiwe Nyanda (Gebhuza) and Lara was Mac Maharaj.
Renaming of comrades made the entire operation safer; spies might not know who they were dealing with.
Part 3 (1990-1993). This is the home-coming period for most of the struggle veterans who were in exile. Most of them were still fugitives in their own country.
This part also highlights that women are the most steadfast revolutionaries and their men could not have survived decades of hardship without the steadfast commitment of their companions.
Part 4 (1994-2004). This is the period where South Africa held the first democratic and non-racial national elections. The ANC was voted into power where Nelson Mandela was elected as the first President of South Africa.
Key elements of the ANC victory, against apartheid, were persistence, propaganda, infrastructure, solidarity and training balanced with music, sports and arts.
Though Kasrils projects other ANC leaders as clever, focused and strategic, he is particularly scathing about Jacob Zuma’s failings, which include “rural, ethnic conservatism and a sexual impropriety which his rape trial demonstrated”.
The book provides Kasrils’ personalised historic account of the ins and outs of the struggle and how they managed to topple the self-destructive Apartheid regime. Please get this book and follow Ronnie Karsils in his quest for freedom and democracy.