South Africa

AmaBookaBooka: Turning the tables on Jonathan Ancer

By Jonathan Ancer 12 December 2017

We turn the tables in this episode of AmaBookaBooka – the interviewer becomes the interviewed; the griller the grilled; the question asker, the answer giver. I normally host the AmaBookaBooka podcast but in this episode I become the subject – and author, editor and journalist Chris Whitfield plays the role of interviewer-in-chief. By JONATHAN ANCER.

Chris asks me about Spy: Uncovering Craig Williamson, the book I wrote which was published in March.

Spy tells the story of the seemingly ordinary Craig Williamson, who walked onto Wits University’s campus in 1972 and joined the National Union of South African Students (Nusas), the left-wing student movement. Williamson was elected Nusas’ vice-president and in January 1977, when his career in student politics came to an abrupt end, he fled the country and from Europe continued his anti-apartheid “work”.

But Williamson was not the activist his friends and comrades thought he was. In January 1980, Captain Williamson was unmasked as a South African spy. Williamson returned to South Africa and during the turbulent 1980s worked for the foreign section of the South African Police’s notorious Security Branch and South Africa’s “super-spy” transformed into a parcel-bomb assassin – whose unit was responsible for the death of struggle icon Ruth First in 1982 and anti-apartheid activist Jeanette Schoon and her six-year-old daughter Katryn in 1984.

Through a series of interviews with the many people Williamson interacted with while he was undercover and after his secret identity was eventually exposed, I detail Williamson’s double life and the stories of a generation of courageous activists. The book eventually culminates with me coming face-to-face with South Africa’s “super-spy”.

Chris and I discuss why I chose to write about Williamson (spoiler alert: because of a pink rabbit) and how I managed to convince people who had been betrayed by Williamson to talk to me, including Thabo Mbeki. In the course of my research, I discovered a letter penned by the former president, which seemingly vouched for Williamson. But the letter wasn’t all that it seemed.

I also talk about my meeting with Williamson and how I looked into his eyes to see if the former Special Branch agent had any remorse.

After subjecting dozens of hapless authors to AmaBookaBooka’s world-famous Sound Effects Rorschach Test, it was my turn to see what it’s like in the hot seat and have my subconscious exposed.

Meanwhile, during this week’s Self-Publishing Corner, MYeBook founder Dave Henderson discusses what it takes for self-publishing authors to have success – and tells listeners the one thing writers should always focus on. Interested in self-publishing? Visit the MYeBook.co.za website for regular news. DM

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