Ronnie Kasrils

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Ronnie Kasrils
Minister of Intelligence Services
In office
27 April 2004 – 25 September 2008
PresidentThabo Mbeki
Preceded byLindiwe Sisulu
Succeeded bySiyabonga Cwele
Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry
In office
17 June 1999 – 27 April 2004
PresidentThabo Mbeki
Preceded byKader Asmal
Succeeded byBuyelwa Sonjica
Minister of Defence and Military Veterans
In office
24 June 1994 – 17 June 1999
PresidentNelson Mandela
Preceded byGene Louw
Succeeded byMluleki George
Personal details
Ronald Kasrils

(1938-11-15) 15 November 1938 (age 85)
Yeoville, Johannesburg, Union of South Africa
Nationality South Africa
Political partySouth African Communist Party
Other political
African National Congress
Spouse(s)Eleanor Kasrils (d. 2009)
Amina Frense (m. 2012)
Civilian awards
Military awardsUnitas (Unity) Medal ' Service Medal ' Service Medal ' Service Medal '[5]

Ronald Kasrils (born 15 November 1938) is a South African politician, Marxist revolutionary, guerrilla and military commander. He was Minister for Intelligence Services from 27 April 2004 to 25 September 2008. He was a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the African National Congress (ANC) from 1987 to 2007 as well as a member of the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party (SACP) from December 1986 to 2007.

Early life[edit]

Kasrils' grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Latvia and Lithuania who fled from Czarist pogroms at the end of the 19th century.[6] He is the son of Rene (born Cohen) and Isidore Kasrils. His father was a factory salesman. His mother worked as a shop assistant prior to her marriage. Through his mother, he is related to the activist Jacqueline Arenstein.[7] Kasrils matriculated at King Edward VII School in Johannesburg. He subsequently became a scriptwriter for films in Johannesburg from 1958 to 1960 before accepting a position as a television and film director for Lever Brothers' advertising division in Durban from 1960 to 1962.

Anti-apartheid activism[edit]

The Sharpeville massacre radicalised Kasrils against the apartheid system and he joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1960, becoming secretary of the Congress of Democrats in Natal in 1961, the same year he joined the South African Communist Party. In 1962, he received a five-year banning order prohibiting him from public speaking. He was a founding member of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) as member of Natal Regional Command during the same year. He became the commander of Natal Regional Command in 1963. He underwent military training in 1964 in Odessa, USSR and at the end of 1965 was sent to London to work for the movement there. During this time Kasrils worked with Yusuf Dadoo, Joe Slovo and Jack Hodgson and they formed a special committee (1966–76) to develop underground activities in South Africa from the United Kingdom. During this time he trained various people including Raymond Suttner, Jeremy Cronin, Ahmed Timol, Alex Moumbaris, Tim Jenkin, and Dave and Sue Rabkin, with the aim of establishing underground propaganda units in South Africa. He served the ANC and was based in London, Luanda, Maputo, Swaziland, Botswana, Lusaka and Harare. Kasrils eventually became a member of MK's High Command and was appointed as Chief of MK Intelligence in 1983.

Kasrils also served on the ANC's Politico-Military Council from 1985 to 1989 and worked underground for the ANC in South Africa during Operation Vula[8] from 1990 to 1991. He went on to head the ANC's campaign section from 1991 to 1994.

Bisho massacre[edit]

On 7 September 1992, about 80,000 protesters from the ANC gathered outside Bisho in the Bantustan of Ciskei in South Africa to demand the resignation of Ciskei leader Oupa Gqozo and the reincorporation of Ciskei into South Africa. The protest was led by senior ANC leaders including South African Communist Party Secretary General Chris Hani, Cyril Ramaphosa, Steve Tshwete and Ronnie Kasrils. The Ciskei government banned the marchers from entering Bisho. Kasrils led an unarmed group in an attempt to break through the Ciskei Defence Force lines to enter Bisho. Ciskei Defence Force soldiers opened fire on the marchers with automatic weapons, killing 28 marchers and injuring over 200. A member of the Ciskei Defence Force was also killed, although this was the result of being shot by another member of the Force. More than 425 rounds were fired, the first fusillade lasting one-and-a-half minutes, and the second lasting a minute.[9]

The Goldstone Commission was tasked with investigating the massacre. The Commission noted there was no evidence to suggest the demonstrators had fired shots, as suggested by Gqozo and condemned the Ciskei leader for banning the protest. The Commission criticised Kasrils for leading marchers to try to enter Bisho.[10]

In the ANC government[edit]

After the first fully democratic elections in South Africa in 1994, Kasrils became a member of the Transitional Executive Council's (TEC) Sub-Council on Defence. He was appointed as Deputy Minister of Defence on 24 June 1994, a post which he held until 16 June 1999. He was also the Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry from 1999 to 2004 and was appointed as Minister of Intelligence Services in 2004.

Following the resignation of President Thabo Mbeki in September 2008, Kasrils was among those members of the Cabinet who submitted their resignations on 23 September.[11]

Positions on Israel/Palestine conflict[edit]

Kasrils is known for his strong criticisms of the government of Israel and for his sympathies towards Palestinian political struggles.[12] He gained international attention after penning a "Declaration of Conscience by South Africans of Jewish Descent" in 2001 against Israeli policies in the occupied territories.[13] He has participated in events in the Palestinian territories with all elected Palestinian parties and endorses a two-state solution premised on the 1967 borders.[14]

In a two-part essay "David and Goliath: Who is Who in the Middle East"[15][16] published in the ANC's theoretical journal Umrabulo in late 2006 and early 2007, Kasrils outlined a history of Israel-Palestine since 1948 very critical of Israeli governments and military actions. Parts of the essay were published in the Mail&Guardian in a summarised form under the title "Rage of the Elephant: Israel in Lebanon."[17] The article caused considerable controversy,[18] when Kasrils, commenting on the results of civilian deaths following the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in July 2006, and referring to the Israeli leadership, noted: "... we must call baby killers 'baby killers' and declare that those using methods reminiscent of the Nazis be told that they are behaving like Nazis."[19]

In November 2006, the South African Jewish Report lodged a complaint of hate speech against Kasrils with the South African Human Rights Commission on the basis that the articles in Umrabulo and the Mail&Guardian violated Constitutional protections (viz. Section 16(2)(c) of the Bill of Rights).[20] On 29 March 2007, the Commission ruled that Kasrils had not engaged in hate speech,[21] and observed: "Mr Kasrils' call for peaceful negotiations is not compatible with the interpretation that he is calling for the destruction of the state of Israel. Neither can his comments reasonably be associated with Holocaust denials."[22]

In May 2007, during a visit to the Palestinian territories, Kasrils met with the Political Leader of Hamas Ismail Haniyeh and invited him to make his first visit outside the Muslim world to South Africa. South Africa's Jewish Board of Deputies criticised the invitation, saying the "racist ideology" of Haniyeh's Hamas organisation, which led the Palestinian unity government at that time, stood in contrast to South Africa's own post-apartheid ideals. In response to criticism of the invitation Kasrils was quoted in Haaretz on 7 May 2007 as stating: "Those who myopically object to such invitations merely show that they have learnt nothing from South Africa's transition".[23]

On October 7, 2023, the same day that Hamas launched a surprise terror attack on Israeli villages near the Gaza Strip, Kasrils, along with other members of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, announced his support for Hamas. He recognized the operation "by the Palestinian resistance in Gaza as a legitimate expression of their right to resist."[24]

Criticism of the ANC after retirement[edit]

Ronnie Kasrils at the book launch of A Simple Man in Cape Town in 2017. The book is highly critical of Jacob Zuma.

Kasrils was strongly critical of the ANC under Jacob Zuma.[25] He is a critic of what he has called the "descent into police state depravity".[26] In April 2014, he launched the "Vote No" campaign alongside fellow ANC member and former government minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge. The campaign aims to encourage people to cast protest votes or spoilt ballots in the 2014 general election as a protest against Zuma and the perceived corruption of his government.[27] In December 2014, Kasrils was elected to the national working committee of the newly created United Front, a workers' party led by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), and also spoke favourably of the Economic Freedom Fighters, a newly formed leftist opposition party.[28] In April 2016, shortly after the EFF's major court victory over President Zuma, Kasrils joined several other prominent former ANC insiders in calling for Zuma to resign.[29]


Kasrils has written books on Bertrand Russell and poetry; many articles on politics, defence and water & forestry issues. His autobiography, Armed and Dangerous, was first published in 1993 and updated and re-published in 1998 and 2004. First published in 2010, The Unlikely Secret Agent gives a personal account of Ronnie's first wife Eleanor's courage against the apartheid powers. It won the 2011 Alan Paton Award.[1]

In 2012, Kasrils wrote a foreword to the new book called London Recruits - The Secret War against Apartheid in which stories of white non-South Africans who were recruited by Kasrils to go on numerous missions to South Africa planting leaflet bombs and other propaganda materials.

Kasrils published a book in 2017 on his experience of working with then-South African President Jacob Zuma called A Simple Man.

In 2021, Kasrils edited the book International Brigade Against Apartheid: Secrets of the War that Liberated South Africa collecting the experiences of people around the world who collaborated with Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK) in the struggle against apartheid.

Personal life[edit]

Kasrils' second wife Eleanor Kasrils, also a prominent anti-apartheid activist, died in 2009, after 45 years of marriage. On 2 February 2012, he married journalist Amina Frense at the Wynberg Home Affairs office, in Cape Town.[1]: 183 

Awards and decorations[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Kasrils, Ronnie (2012). The Unlikely Secret Agent (Illustrated ed.). New York: Monthly Review Press. ISBN 978-1583672778.
  2. ^ "Monthly Review – Ronnie Kasrils". Monthly Review. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
  3. ^ "2018 Recipients". South African Literary Awards. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
  4. ^ Mulgrew, Nick. "Ronnie Kasrils and Nick Mulgrew win South African Literary Awards". PEN South Africa. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
  5. ^ "A3345 Ronald KASRILS Papers, 1942 -" (PDF). WITS University. Ronald KASRILS Papers, 1942. Historical Papers Research Archive, The Library, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 April 2023. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
  6. ^ Biography: Ronnie Kasrils Archived 31 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine Ministry of Intelligence Services.
  7. ^ Barnett, Marcus (11 March 2017). "Sabotaging Apartheid: Interview with Ronnie Kasrils". Jacobin. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  8. ^ "Operation Vula: a secret Dutch network against apartheid", Radio Netherlands Archives, September 9, 1999
  9. ^ "Bhisho Massacre". Buffalo City Municipality. Archived from the original on 29 March 2013. Retrieved 20 February 2007.
  10. ^ "Goldstone Commission investigates the Bisho Massacre". South African History Online. Retrieved 20 February 2007.
  11. ^ "Confusion rattles markets", Sapa (IOL), 23 September 2008.
  12. ^ The Wall Street Journal Online - OpinionJournal Federation
  13. ^ Ronnie Kasrils (7 December 2001) "Israel-Palestine Conflict: Declaration of Conscience"
  14. ^ South African Minister of Intelligence led a delegation to Palestine
  15. ^ Umrabulo Number 27, November 2006
  16. ^ Umrabulo Number 28, March 2007
  17. ^ 1 September 2006, Mail & Guardian Archived 30 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ See letters to the Mail&Guardian in response Archived 30 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  19. ^ The full reference: "... we must call baby killers “baby killers” and declare that those using methods reminiscent of the Nazis be told that they are behaving like Nazis. May Israelis wake up and see reason, as happened in South Africa, and negotiate peace. And finally, yes, let us learn from what helped open white South African eyes: the combination of a just struggle reinforced by international solidarity utilising the weapons of boycott and sanctions." Archived 30 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ Documents - Constitution - 1996 - Chapter 2 - Bill of Rights Archived 17 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Media Releases 2007
  22. ^ Israel: not 'hate speech' but free speech: Mail & Guardian Online
  23. ^ Jewish S. African minister slams critics of invitation to Hamas PM - Haaretz - Israel News
  24. ^ "Hamas operation in Israel legitimate resistance - PSC - DOCUMENTS | Politicsweb". Retrieved 24 October 2023.
  25. ^ Now we pay the price for our seduction, Ronnie Kasrils, Mail & Guardian, 21 June 2013
  26. ^ Mr President, arrest this descent into police state depravity, Ronnie Kasrils, Mail & Guardian, 6 March 2013
  27. ^ Pillay, Verashni (15 April 2014). "'Vote No', say ANC veterans at campaign launch". Mail & Guardian. Retrieved 25 April 2014.
  28. ^ Quintal, Genevieve (15 December 2014). "EFF has a future, says Kasrils". Independent Online. Retrieved 31 December 2014.
  29. ^ "Trainspotter: #ZumaMustFall Take Two, this time for real". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 10 April 2016.