Kiss: File JC 110
I found this book gripping and enthralling reading, but perhaps that’s just me. It’s about the relationship between a Special Branch spy and the subject of his surveillance, a teenager, Julian Christopher. Perhaps I found it so enthralling because I have seen (and have photocopies of) the reports the Special Branch wrote about me between 1964 and 1984, so it has a personal interest.
Julian Christopher is a fairly average teenager with rich parents whose left-wing political interests attracted the attention of the Special Branch. He began to question his parents’ secularist-atheist values when his best friend was involved in an accident. Julian became interested in Christianity, and joined the Radical Christian Fellowship, which his Special Branch minder then infiltrated.
The Special Branch man gets copies of Julian’s diary, and tries to win his trust and friendship, but part of him dislikes what he is doing.
I did not have the same close relations with members of the SB that are described in the book, though when I was studying overseas I did send Christmas cards to Warrant Officer van Rensburg of the Pietermaritzburg SB. Unlike the spy in the book, we knew who Van Resnburg was, and he made no recret of his presence at meetings — the SB let their presence be known because they wanted to intimidate people. Part of my motivation for sending Christmas cards to Warrant Officer van Rensburg was a “love your enemies” thing, but I have to admit that part of it was also to let him know that I knew his home address — two could play at the spying game, and though I had no intention of tossing a petrol bomb into his car (as the SB had done to a friend’s car), perhaps the thought that his clients knew where he lived could act as a slight deterrent.
But the SB did employ undercover spies, and this, of course, engendered an atmosphere of suspicion. As in the book, there were small Christian study groups where it was important to develop an atmosphere of trust, but that was difficult when you were never sure whether the person next to you might not be an SB spy.
One particular example of this, which I did not experience myself, was a Christian Institute Bible Study group that a friend of mine attended, and one of the other members of the group was a psychologist who was also a mental patient at the Fort Napier Hospital in Pietermaritzburg who had been induced by the SB to spy on my friend. This could only have exacerbated his mental condition in a way that harmed both the spy and the spied-upon. And it is that kind of psychological tension that is brought out most dramatically in this book.
For some readers it might seem a bit similar to a kind of futuristic fantasy like 1984, but for me the striking thing was its authenticity, in being so close to real life. It was about the British S[pecial Branch, not the South African one, but the groups they infiltrated were rather true to life as well. I knew of the Christian wing of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and joined the Christian Committee of 100, which was similar to the Radical Christian Fellowship in the book, though rather less organised and effective. If the British SB noticed its activities, they do not seem to have informed their opposite numbers in South Africa, or if they did, the latter did not see fit to include that in their reports to the Minister of Justice.
So yes, this is a very good read, and very true to life.