Songs and Secrets

South Africa from Liberation to Governance

November 2012 9781849042376 288pp


A decade into its hard-won democracy, South Africa and its ruling party, the ANC, have been through turbulent times. Confrontation between Thabo Mbeki, and his then deputy, Jacob Zuma; the dismissal of Zuma as Deputy; Zuma’s defeat of Mbeki in ANC presidential elections and the recall of Mbeki as South African president are events that left many ANC cadres politically and emotionally aghast. Were these events the result of personal enmity? Was it the beginning of the break-up of the broad church that the ANC had become to unite all forces in the struggle against apartheid? Or did the roots lie in the global dynamic that allowed South Africa its freedom as the Cold War cooled? Written in an anecdotal and cinematic style, Songs and Secrets explores these questions through the viewfinder of a former high-ranking member of the ANC’s secret intelligence wing. It follows the author into the ANC’s military camps in Angola; to Moscow for spycraft training; to the underground in Botswana and into leadership positions in the administration of the new government. Gilder’s frank memoir explores the personal, political, psychological and historical realities that gave birth to the new South Africa, in particular the oft-ignored conditions in which the ANC government tried to turn apartheid around.


‘A personal reflection on his involvement in the ANC abroad, […] Gilder’s account of his political journey will provide acute insights into the role played by one white member of the ANC.[…] His is what might be called a vigorous ‘authorized’ look at the difficulties of transforming the intelligence outfits inherited by the ANC and the apartheid government into post-apartheid agencies that would best serve the cause of the new South Africa.’ — Patrick Chabal, International Affairs

‘Gilder tells his long, complex and, in fact, quite extraordinary story with much verve, zipping between revelatory anecdotes and a staccato outline of the bigger picture. Into his own picaresque story Gilder inserts round-ups of key political events, a bit like the “newsreels” in John Dos Passos’s USA trilogy.’ — Mail & Guardian, South Africa

‘A memoir rich in anecdotes, told with verve and humour, in information on the functioning of the South African state since 1994, and in disabused reflections on the evolution of the ANC. … Songs and Secrets captures the dreams and tragedies shared by many ANC militants, their joy and disillusionment. Above all, it allows us to better understand the extreme discipline and loyalty instilled in the camps and prisons by a generation dismayed that the ANC is no longer the organisation they grew up in. Like Barry Gilder, these militants do not want to reveal themselves to be disillusioned even if they must admit that “… the country is confronted with a certain number of problems to which the ANC has not identified the solution”.’ — Politique Africaine

‘Honest, insightful and humorous’ — Jessie Duarte, Spokesperson for the African National Congress

Songs and Secrets gives direct insights into exile life in Angola and Botswana, discussing power but also highlighting a history of friendship … [and] opening new pathways for the study of the uncomfortable realities of exile.’ — Journal of African History


Barry Gilder was born in South Africa in 1950. He went into exile in 1976, composed and sang struggle songs at anti-apartheid events in Europe and elsewhere, and served in the ANC’s intelligence structures until his return to South Africa in 1991. He later became deputy head of the South African Secret Service. He is currently Director of Operations at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, a policy think tank set up by former senior leaders in the democratic government.

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