"John Harris was not a hero"

An exchange from all sides on the Johannesburg "station bomber"

JOHANNESBURG - On Thursday Politicsweb published a review by Jeremy Gordin of David Beresford's new book "Truth is a Strange Fruit: A personal journey through the apartheid war." Gordin writes that Beresford publishes the "remarkable correspondence ...of so-called station bomber John Harris, hanged on 1 April 1965, and his wife Ann." Gordin further notes that "Beresford unflinchingly recreates Harris's interrogation by (then) Captain JJ Viktor, a savage security policeman." This article attracted an interesting exchange from readers who, in one way or another, had direct or indirect connections with those events. We publish an edited version below.

Pieter on August 26 2010, 08:06:

Harris and the station bomb

Harris phoned the police and warned the police that a bomb would be set off at the station. No precise location and time for the police to respond. Even if you plant a bomb without any explosives in it, you are still committing a crime called attempt to commit murder. Harris should not have done that. Him phoning police does not and cannot shift the blame to the police. My father an innocent person was psychologically injured by that bomb at I think exit 3. His newspaper protected him against injury. He never harmed anybody, was kind to all people and could not forget his close encounter with death, even when dying of cancer. The shock of that incident was worse than when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Harris would have been hanged in any country. at that point in time. I am against violence as a political weapon. How can one judge or prevent anybody from using violence, when believing the ends justifies the means, Or how can I fight the death penalty, if I believe in political violence as a method of politics. Lets rather mourn the innocent in all wars.


P.C.Swanepoel on August 26 2010, 09:57:

"A savage security policeman"

Please tell us, Judge Gordin, on whose testimony have you decided that Viktor is (remember he is still alive), "a savage security policeman? Have you given him the right to defend himself?


Gus Gosling on August 26 2010, 10:30:

@P.C. Swanepoel
I'm guessing on the basis of Gordon Winter's book, Chapter 6, pp 94--96 (Winter, that paragon of honesty and virtue).


P.C.Swanepoel on August 26 2010, 11:32:

@ Gus Gosling

Thanks for reminding me about Winter's book. I have just re-read his account of the Harris case. It's sickening. Nobody in his right mind would ever believe that story.


Jeremy Gordin on August 26 2010, 13:12:

@PC Swanepoel

Beresford's account is apparently based on Winter's book (unfortunately), yes, as pointed out above. But it is common cause that Viktor was Harris's interrogator (see TRC files) and also common cause that Harris's jaw was twice fractured and testicles . .more badly damaged. Other than that, just by the way, Viktor's guys arrested me one night in a Soweto shebeen in about 1982 (for not having a WRAB permit) - he was by then a brigadier, methinks - and, trust me, he was savage - and I wasn't even in custody, merely in his office. Finally, he could always write in here - and take me to task. Me 'n the guys at Polweb believe in freedom of speech and audi alteram partem. - Judge Gordin


Paul Trewhela on August 26 2010, 13:26

John Harris

I was doing standing torture in Compol Buildings in Pretoria over three days and nights when Harris's bomb exploded in July 1964. On the night I was returned to my cell in Pretoria Local Prison or one night very shortly afterwards, Harris was . .more put in the cell next to me. Communicating through the aperture leading onto the corridor (as shown in Harold Strachan's drawing on the cover of Hugh Lewin's Bandiet out of Jail), he told me that his jaw had been broken during his interrogation.


P.C.Swanepoel on August 26 2010, 14:35

The interrogation of Harris

I have just spoken to general J.J.Viktor over the phone. He says Gordon Winter's story is a total fabrication. The Harris case was investigated by the Railway Police. Viktor only interrogated him on the day after his arrest. His jaw had then already been . .more broken. Viktor did not assault him at all.


Nationless on August 26 2010, 14:48:

The suffering of Glynnis Burleigh - A station bomb victim

Hmm. There was a seven year old girl and her grannie involved in the carnage at the station. The grannie died of her wounds. But the little girl lived on. 80% of her body was burnt by the bomb. She only just survived the incident. Her name was Glynnis Burleigh. And she suffered more than can be explained in words. She was a friend of mine when I was only seventeen. Unfortunately for Glynnis she was completely disfigured. To look at her was like looking at a wax works figure of a person that had been melted at very high temperature. Where ever she went people could only stare. Such was the severity of her injury. To be trapped in a severely disfigured body when you are seventeen is both physically and emotionally hell. I wonder if there was a photograph of Glynnis in this book. Where ever the soul of John Harris is it surely must be in hell. The suffering of innocent people blown up by bombs left in public places can never be forgiven. Mandela named Harris a hero. Hopefully God does not forgive acts such as his.


Paul Trewhela on August 26 2010, 15:58:

The Interrogation of Harris, cont.

Thank you to PC Swanepoel for this information, and also to Nationless. Harris was not a hero about what he did, and should not be regarded as a hero, though he was brave when facing the gallows. In placing his bomb he broke the fundamental principle of his organisation - not to cause injury to people - and he did tremendous damage to the morale of the Liberal Party, which dissolved itself in 1968. The loss of a continuous political tradition of the Liberal Party, as a nonracial party, has had huge ongoing consequences for South Africa's political and civic culture.


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