George Washington attends inaugural ball

Bradley Steyn’s book Undercover with Mandela’s Spies is not just a rollicking read full of testosterone-driven skop, skiet and donner, treachery and treason, it is also about a young white man’s gradual attainment of wisdom, of understanding how psychologically, emotionally and spiritually corrosive the idea of unreconstructed whiteness is.

While a packed audience attended the Cape Town launch of Bradley Steyn’s recently published biography, Undercover with Mandela’s Spies – The Story of the Boy Who Crossed the Square, an account of how he went from apartheid Security Branch operative to spying for the ANC, the ghosts of those who suffered and died in apartheid violence moved among us.

Steyn was a 17-year-old schoolboy when he strolled across Strijdom Square towards the State Theatre in Pretoria one hot afternoon in November 1988. Fresh from rugby practice, the schoolboy carried a set of clean clothes in a tog bag for that night’s performance of the ballet Giselle,to be performed at the State Theatre, where his mother, Daphne, worked.

That year, 1988, was a torrid one of assassinations, murders, constant violence and bomb and limpet mine explosions in Kokstad, in a disco in Hillbrow, in central Johannesburg, in Cape Town in an office…

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