top of page

The Lowdown Hub

‘I was on a list to be terminated’ – Sue Dobson, the spy who helped to end apartheid She risked all


Sue Dobson has written a memoir that has inspired a film before it has even been published.


As a hite South African, Sue Dobson risked arrest, torture, and imprisonment spying for the black nationalist cause during the latter days of the brutal apartheid regime. She was a middle-class woman in her 20s when she joined the African National Congress (ANC) and infiltrated the white minority government – even having a honey-pot affair with a police officer to obtain information, with the full support of her husband, a fellow activist. When her cover was blown in 1989, she fled to Britain, where she sought political asylum after threats to her life.

Now, for the first time in 30 years, she is ready to talk publicly about her story – that of a “very ordinary” woman who played an extraordinary part in fighting racism. She told the Observer: “It’s because I’m ordinary that I was able to do the work that I did because I wasn’t suspected … My ordinariness has been my strength, strangely.” Now 59, having come to terms with painful memories, she has written a memoir that has inspired a film before it has even been published.

Sole access to the manuscript has been given to British producer Guy de Beaujeu, whose credits include Journey’s End, RC Sherriff’s harrowing first world war drama, starring Sam Claflin and Paul Bettany.

If Dobson had been arrested, she would have faced up to 15 years in prison and torture. “The charge would be treason,” she said. “The South African security chiefs were renowned for their barbaric interrogation routine. Many people died during interrogation.


They were thrown out of windows. They were beaten so badly that they were brain-damaged. There were particularly unsavoury techniques like electric shocks to the genitals … “The unfairness of it all is that I probably would have been beaten, but not as severely as someone who was a different colour. So, even in the interrogation rooms, racism was very much an issue.”