Thursday, 24 July 2014

Bizarre and gratuitous slaughter - the Johannesburg station bomb 50 years on

At 4:33 p.m., in peak hour on a Friday afternoon in Johannesburg, on 24th July 1964, an explosion tore through the waiting cubicle above platforms 5 and 6 of Johannesburg's main railway station, leaving shattered glass, blood and lacerated bodies.

It had been planted by John Harris, a member of the African Resistance Movement (ARM) an underground​ ​group formed by members ​of the Liberal Party of South Africa​ without the Party's knowledge or approval​. (It should be noted that before the Pan African Congress accepted non-black members, the Liberals were the only multi-racial party. The African National Congress organised separately among the other official racial groups, ​the South African Indian Congress (SAIC), ​ the Coloured Peoples Congress and the Congress of Democrats respectively. The latter was predominantly a Communist front organisation, something which probably marred Nelson Mandela's reputation among Western leaders at the time.) Harris acted on his own. None of his ARM colleagues, certainly nobody in the main Liberal Party nor South Africa's Special Branch which had managed to penetrate ARM, knew of his planned atrocity.

Frederick John Harris had been a brilliant young man, a national junior quiz champion. In 1960, or thereabouts, still in his early twenties, he became chairman of SANROC which campaigned against apartheid in sport.  It seems that he also suffered from a mood disorder named cyclothymia. Sufferers have low days and mentally energetic days that might be mildly 'manic' -- over the top, but never comparable with the insane mania of bipolar/manic-depressive psychosis. Cyclothymia cannot interfere with either ones ability to reason and very definitely not with ones moral sense or consequences of ones action. It can, however, heighten the messianic sense of someone suffering from dissociative disorder or narcissistic personality disorder. (The diagnosis led to an unsuccessful appeal on mental health grounds against Harris's execution.)

Harris formed a close bond with the young Peter Hain, a friendship which has coloured the MP's view of events ever since. An otherwise touching portrait of his parents and of the struggles of the SA Liberal Party, "Ad & Wal", is marred by a long apologia for Harris.

This is the report of the bomb, on a South African politics web site, by a leading Liberal Party member:

Countdown: John Harris's bomb and execution

The police raids which resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of many members of the African Resistance Movement (ARM), and to the planting of a bomb at Johannesburg station, began in Cape Town on 4 July 1964.

Early that morning the ARM activist Adrian Leftwich was arrested at his flat in Lemon Lane, Cape Town, and later the same day so was Lynnette van der Riet, who had been with Leftwich when the Security Police called, but had been allowed to leave. Over the next few days more detentions followed in Cape Town: Leftwich's comrades Spike de Keller, Anthony Trew, Eddie Daniels, Alan Brooks and Stephanie Kemp.

Adrian Leftwich died in Britain on 2 April this year.

Mike Schneider, who had managed to evade the Security Police, raced to Johannesburg and warned ARM members in the city that Adrian Leftwich was telling the Security Police everything he knew. The Johannesburg group came to quick decisions. Ronald and Hilary Mutch (who had British passports) motorcycled across the border to Botswana; Mike Schneider took an ARM escape route to Swaziland with Rosemary Wentzel; and Hugh Lewin decided to stay and face the consequences.

At 5.30 am on Thursday 9 July, with his comrades safely on their way out of South Africa, Hugh Lewin called at the home of John Harris, who had been recruited into the ARM in 1963, and had so far been inactive. Lewin told Harris that command of the ARM now passed to him and to John Lloyd, who was temporarily away in Natal, attending a wedding. He also told Harris where the ARM's cache of explosives, timers, instruction manuals, etc was stored. Later that morning, at 10.30am, the Security Police arrested Lewin at his office and, later on the same day, another ARM member, Roman (then known as Raymond) Eisenstein.

On Sunday 12 July, John Harris recovered the explosives cache from the cupboard in Witwatersrand University where it had been stored by another ARM member, Dennis Higgs, and transferred the material to a luggage store in Johannesburg Station.

On Tuesday 14 July, John Lloyd returned from Natal. John Harris telephoned him, they met for a snack, and Harris told Lloyd (who had joined the ARM in December 1963 and played only a minor role, acting as driver in one or two missions) that command of the ARM now rested with the two of them. They discussed various sabotage possibilities, but came to no decisions, either then or at a further meeting on July 17.

On Tuesday 21, July John Lloyd was questioned by the police but not arrested, whereupon he told Harris that he wanted to lie low for a while as he was now being watched. Harris accepted this, and started that day to make a bomb consisting of eight sticks of dynamite, five gallons of petrol - which made the bomb too heavy to carry, so he disposed of three gallons into his car tank - two detonators, and a timer.

On Thursday 23 July, John Lloyd was arrested.

On Friday 24 July at 4.33 pm - peak hour on a Friday afternoon in Johannesburg, with throngs of people pouring into the station on their way home from work - an explosion tore through the waiting cubicle above platforms 5 and 6 of Johannesburg Station, leaving shattered glass, blood and lacerated bodies.

Mr B J Vorster, the Minister of Justice, appeared at the station very grim-faced indeed. Later that evening several of the previously detained ARM members, including Hugh Lewin, were brought to the station to view the bloodstained scene. Then Lewin was taken to The Grays, the much-feared Security Police Headquarters on the corner of Von Wielligh and Main Streets, and dragged into an interrogation room. He glimpsed John Lloyd slumped in a chair in an adjoining office, "flushed, mouth open, looking haggard and beaten", as he described it in a letter in 1995. Lewin was badly beaten and gave the interrogators John Harris's name as the last remaining ARM member still at large. At this stage he was quite unaware of any connection between Harris and the bomb blast, which he simply did not connect with the ARM.

At about 11 pm that evening Lieutenant H Muller and Sergeant J M Strydom arrested John Harris at his home, where he was sound asleep, and took him to The Grays, where he was subjected to a savage assault. After being taken to Pretoria Local Prison, where many political arrestees were being detained, Harris - either on the night of his arrest or the following night - informed Paul Trewhela, in a neighbouring cell, that his jaw had been broken, and the famous plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Dr Jack Penn, had been brought into prison to wire him up.

The most precise identification of the assailant (there may have been more than one) is by Hugh Lewin, who as noted above had already been interrogated and assaulted, and was in a room beneath where this was happening, and heard what was taking place. In his memoir, Bandiet: Seven Years in a South African Prison, Barrie & Jenkins. London, 1974 - banned in South Africa, and later issued in an expanded second edition, Bandiet out of Jail - Lewin identifies a security policeman, Erasmus, as "the man who had beaten up Harris.... his fists full of blood, particularly the right fist, one with a large ring on, messy with blood." (pp.38-39).

Early in the morning on Saturday 25 July John Harris guided Major W H Brit of the South African Railway Police, the Officer in charge of the case, and Lieutenant W J van der Merwe, to 33 Oxford Road where they found 82 sticks of dynamite, detonators, timers, batteries, rubber gloves and a book on electrical circuitry.

On the same day the morning newspapers in Johannesburg carried the following reports:

1 Die Transvaler reported that a bomb had gone off in Johannesburg station at 4.33 the previous afternoon. It stated that the newspaper had received a phone call at 4.27 pm that afternoon from someone asking in excellent ("suiwer") Afrikaans to speak to the Editor. He was put through and told the person who answered: "Dit is die African Resistance Movement wat praat. Daar is 'n bom in die hoofsaal van die stasie. As iemand aan hom vat sal hy ontplof. Dit sal om 4.33 ontplof. Waarsku die stasie". Die Transvaler then telephoned the Station Police and informed them.

2 The Rand Daily Mail reported the following sequence of events: (a) At 4.27 pm the previous afternoon the newspaper received a telephone call saying: "Listen carefully. This is a very important message. A time-bomb set for 4.33 will explode in the main concourse of Johannesburg Station this afternoon". The message was repeated and the caller rang off when asked to identify himself. (b) At 4.30 pm the Mail telephoned Colonel H Venter of the Security Branch in Johannesburg and told him of the call. (c) At 4.35 pm a member of the public telephoned the Mail to say a bomb had exploded on the station. (d) At 4.37 pm the Mail again telephoned the Security Branch to report the explosion.

On Monday 14 September John Harris appeared on formal remand on charges of murder and sabotage, having made a statement admitting guilt before a magistrate on 11 September. The case against him opened in Pretoria on Monday 21 September.

On 12 October John Harris confessed in court to planting a suitcase with dynamite and petrol in it next to a bench in the Johannesburg Station concourse at 4.05 pm, and then driving to the Jeppe Street post office and "telephoning the station and two newspapers to be cleared so that nobody would be hurt". This admission was contained in the confession he had written while in detention. Before Harris's statement was read out in court, the trial judge, Mr Justice Ludorf, asked Mr K E N Moodie QC (for the State): "Is this a confession?" Mr Moodie replied: "Yes". The judge then asked Mr Namie Phillips, senior counsel for the defence: "Are you objecting?" and Mr Phillips answered "No".

Evidence on the timing of this sequence of events, given both before and after the above confession in court, included the following:

1 On 22 September, Mr J H Openshaw of the Rand Daily Mail told the court that he received a call "soon after 4.20 pm" [note: this differs from the time given in the RDM news report of 25 July, above] on 24 July from an anonymous telephone caller who told him to listen very carefully as what he had to say was very important. The caller said that a bomb timed to go off at 4.33 pm had been placed in the main concourse of the station, repeated the message, and hung up.

2 Also on 22 September, Mr J J van Rooyen of Die Transvaler told the court that he received an anonymous phone call "at 4.27 pm" on 24 July from a man speaking good Afrikaans who said: "Dit is die African Resistance Movement wat praat. Daar is 'n bom in die hoofsaal van die stasie. As iemand aan hom vat sal hy ontplof." He then rang off.

3 On 12 October, Capt J Vermeulen, police staff officer in Johannesburg, told the court that he received "a mystery call at between 4.25 and 4.27 pm" on 24 July from a man who did not identify himself and said: "This is the African Resistance Movement. Can you hear me ? There is a bomb somewhere in the main hall of the station. It will go off at 4.33 pm. Don't touch it". Under cross examination he denied that the caller had said the bomb was near the main concourse, or that that station should be cleared.

In response to these testimonies, the senior defence counsel, Mr Namie Phillips, said only that John Harris (who had already formally confessed to planting the bomb at 4.05 pm) would state that the time of his telephone call to the police was more like 4.20 pm than 4.25 pm. For the rest he raised no fundamental objections to the times given, and there the matter rested.

The trial ended on Friday 6 November. Mr Namie Philips made a plea in mitigation based on three points: (a) That JH's mental condition was such that "here is a man who is not wholly normal"; (b) That John Lloyd had testified that JH had not intended to kill anybody; and (c) That JH had not acted for any motive of personal gain but only to create a spectacular political demonstration. No reference was made to the timing of the three warning telephone calls. Mr Justice Ludorf rejected Mr Philips' arguments and pronounced sentence of death.

An appeal was lodged, and on 2 February 1965 Mr H Hanson QC argued to the Appeal Court in Bloemfontein that Mr Ludorf's judgement should be overturned because (a) The Defence had established that JH was unable to distinguish between right and wrong at the time of the crime, owing to mental disease; (b) The State had failed to establish that JH's mental state was such that he was capable of formulating an intention to kill; (c) The passages from a neurological journal relied upon by Mr Justice Ludorf had not been referred to by any witness and were therefore not evidence; (d) And finally that, should the court find JH guilty of murder, it should find that his mental state had so impaired his judgement that the sentence should be a lesser one. Again no reference was made to the timing of the three warning telephone calls.

The appeal was rejected on Monday 1 March.

John Harris was executed in Pretoria Central Prison on 1 April 1965.


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Ward's offence greater than Tonge's

 - but it is not for LibDem leaders to sack him

In 2004, then MP Jenny Tonge was removed from her position as a party spokesman by Charles Kennedy for making the following remark: "If I had to live in that situation – and I say that advisedly – I might just consider becoming one myself." pointing out that " …having seen the violence, humiliation and provocation that the Palestinian people live under every day and have done since their land was occupied by Israel, I could understand …" She made these comments after spending time with families in Palestine, and I believe reacted personally as a mother and grandmother. The party did not remove the whip, though, and it was a personal tragedy which caused her to give up her Richmond Park seat. After a few years she resumed public life, was made a life peer and fought again for her humanitarian cause, as detailed in Felicity Arbuthnot's article. The new party leader, Nick Clegg, did withdraw the party whip in the Lords over a call for an inquiry into a report (given too much credibility, in my opinion) that the Israeli Defence Force was harvesting human organs.

Bradford East MP David Ward tweeted recently: "The big question is - if I lived in Gaza would I fire a rocket? - probably yes,". Not "might just consider", as Tonge said, but "probably yes". Last year he condemned "the Jews" for "inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza".  He had the party whip withdrawn temporarily for that outburst and looks likely to be disciplined similarly this time.

According to the Bradford Telegraph, "a Labour spokesman said: 'At a time when all sides should be working for a ceasefire and a peaceful settlement, it defies belief that a Liberal Democrat MP should tweet something so vile and irresponsible.'" Interestingly, there is no indication as to whether that spokesman was speaking from London or Bradford. I would guess the former. Local Labour will be keen to keep onside the large Muslim population, having lost the Bradford West seat in 2012 to George Galloway, long associated with Arab and Muslim causes. I don't expect to see the headline "Bradford Labour candidate condemns Hamas" any time soon. The comments to the online Bradford Telegraph are predominantly sympathetic to Ward.

As I started writing this posting, I had half an ear on a programme about John Wilkes. It is clear that I would have been with the establishment of the day in rejecting his xenophobic stance, as I am over Nigel Farage. However, it was a check to democracy for Wilkes to be prevented from taking a parliamentary seat to which he had been elected - six times before he eventually succeeded. I believe that Ward was less courageous than Tonge - there are probably more readers of the Jewish Chronicle in Richmond upon Thames than there are in Bradford East. I also condemn the racist tone of his earlier comments. But I am with Jonathan Brown, writing on Liberal Democrat Voice, when he says: "If his tweets are offensive, it is for the electorate to sack him should they wish, not his colleagues."

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Tory donor snaps up cooperative family silver

One of the most profitable parts of the Cooperative group has been sold off to stave off imminent collapse, but it bodes ill for the future. The deal mocks the Labour deadwood that riddled the old management in that the new owner is headed by a major Conservative supporter.

Monday, 21 July 2014

The liberal James Garner

There are actors who are associated with parts at odds with their own personal convictions. Conservatives James Stewart and Gary Cooper in their heyday starred in liberal classics of the big screen, while John Wayne was often the mouthpiece for the radical writer/director John Ford. Complementary examples are harder to find, and are mostly in the ranks of character actors. (One such is Norman Lloyd, who played a Nazi saboteur in Hitchcock's 1942 film of that name and a few villainous capitalists after that. A socialist who survived the witch-hunts of the 1950s largely it seems through going into production, I see that he is in "A Place for Heroes" due to be released in his centenary year. Typically, his character is said to have a "checkered past".)

James Garner, as this obituary by Robert Sellers in the Indy shows, was, like his mentor and friend Henry Fonda, in the opposite category. He "seemed to epitomise the honourable man in a dishonourable world" and "roles like Maverick and private eye Jim Rockford [...] worked because they were so close to the real person". Indeed, probably his least successful part was as the buccaneering capitalist F Ross Johnson in "Barbarians at the Gate".

It did not surprise me to learn that according to IMDb, "He and his wife Lois Clarke were married at the Beverly Hills Court House just two weeks after they met at a political rally", "was involved with many humanitarian causes", "was a volunteer of Save the Children" and "had helped organize Martin Luther King's famous 'March on Washington' civil rights demonstration". My favourite of his later film rôles was in the satirical thriller "My Fellow Americans" which teamed him with Jack Lemmon as ex-presidents, Democrat and Republican respectively, reflecting each man's own politics. Also interesting was "The Skin Game" which made some keen points about slavery and racial politics through the medium of comedy. Even his biggest success, the Rockford Files had a liberal message at its heart, in that the hero was an ex-convict who made good. (Given the trouble that Garner had with gaining anything like his true worth in earnings from both "Maverick" and "Rockford", I wonder whether the conniving Angel in the latter came to embody untrustworthy Hollywood executives.)

An intriguing series, which I wasn't aware of until searching the IMDb entry because it wasn't shown over here, was "Nichols". The summary storyline reads: "In 1914, Nichols, a soldier, sick of killing, returns to his Arizona home town, named after his family, and is strong-armed into serving as sheriff by the Ketcham clan, who run the area. Nichols, who doesn't believe in toting a gun, scoots around via an Indian motorcycle. The Ketchams install as deputy their relative, Mitch Mitchell. The nasty deputy has a dog named Slump, and Mitchell is very dumb. A business-savvy local gal has an undefined relationship with Nichols, but it's obvious there's lots of action in the back rooms of her saloon. The strict moral lines of traditional Westerns are absent in this very Vietnam War era show's view of the Old West's dying days: the Ketchams aren't all bad, and little-respected Sheriff Nichols wouldn't mind ripping off the town to head for Mexico." I wonder if Warners can be persuaded to make the DVD available over here?

Garner was dismissive of his own acting ability. Maybe like Cary Grant and  his friend Paul Newman the range of parts he played was limited.  However, the true test is surely whether you could believe in the person you saw on the screen, and Garner passed that with flying colours. He seldom had the chance to play emotional parts, but I challenge anyone not to be moved by "The Notebook" in which he partners a dementia victim played by Gena Rowlands.

But in the end politics and dramatic criticism must give ground to the pleasure which Garner gave to two generations of viewers.

Sunday, 20 July 2014


This article niggled me enough to do some research to back up my recollections of travelling on a type of plane which was once seen as the future of air travel. In particular, writer Mark Leftly states that "turboprops are only built for short distances" and "one had to shout to be heard by the person sitting next to [one]". During the research, I found his statement that there were only two manufacturers of the type left was also in error: to Bombardier and BAE/ATP (builder of the ATR 600, the focus of the article) one should add Lockheed.

There is a history of turboprops here. One learns that though "it was a little-known Hungarian named György Jendrassik who sired the first true turboprop engine, designated the Cs1, in 1938", it was British company Rolls-Royce who made the engine a viable proposition and British airframe companies Vickers and Bristol who produced the first successful planes.

It was the Viscount of which I had happy memories. The passenger compartment was quiet, quieter than many of today's trains, and certainly a relief after the piston-powered Viking and Dakota which came before.

Bristol produced the Britannia, not just the military version celebrated here, but also seen as a medium- to long-haul passenger plane.  The type actually inspired the change of name of the former Euravia to the better-known Britannia Airlines when the company acquired its first Britannia.

Turboprop airline operation suffered a setback with a large fall in the price of  oil, making the faster turbojets a more attractive proposition. However, with the price of fuel creeping up again, and the need to replace some ageing short- and medium-haul, the type looks to be making a come-back. Although Pratt & Whitney power most of the new passenger models, Rolls-Royce is still involved since its acquisition of Allison.

Minimum wage and Green Party attitude to the EU

Courtesy of news updates from the European Movement I learn that the Bundestag, Germany's hower house, has approved the introduction of a minimum wage of €8.50 per hour from 2015. At current rates of exchange, I estimate that equates to £6.40 per hour, just below the £6.50 approved for the UK starting in October. Up until this year, Germany was one of the few nations of the EU not to have a minimum wage. Its introduction was a consequence of the coalition deal resulting from the last German elections. The legislation still has to be approved by the upper house of parliament, but it is assumed that it will pass without difficulty. It will be interesting to see what difference if any the change will make to Germany's competitiveness and to immigration flows on the Continent.

Jean Lambert, one of the UK's three Green MEPs, blogged confirmation that her party has shifted its stance from a socialist Euroscepticism to a more positive, but liberal and reforming one. It seems remarkably similar to Liberal Democrats' EU platform. She writes:

we will be working with our Green colleagues from across Europe to challenge and energise the Grand Coalition of centre-right, centre-left and liberal parties in the European Parliament, not simply to oppose it. We want a positive role for the EU.
Many of the areas we want to develop as Greens - the low-carbon economy, ambitious environmental legislation, the decent work agenda based on strong labour rights, reducing inequalities, a progressive migration policy, strengthening human rights, reform of the financial sector - are going in totally the opposite direction to the Cameron reform agenda for the EU. We see his agenda as going backwards and not providing any sort of positive vision for the EU.

So it's likely that a significant part of our time in this Parliament will be spent in putting forward a Green case for our continuing membership of the EU. It's not about business-as-usual or going backwards, but about reframing the EU, including its economy, to deal with the future of our planet, tackling inequalities and promoting human rights.

One trusts that this is genuine.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Environment questions

It seems from Thursday's question time that my hopes for English badgers with the advent of a new minister at DEFRA have been dashed:

Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab): I congratulate the Secretary of State on her promotion and welcome her to her new job. However, I am appalled to hear the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), confirm that she is going to continue with the discredited, unscientific, inhumane and ineffective badger cull. Is she aware that Professor David Macdonald, the chief scientific adviser to Natural England, which will have to license the culls, has described them as an “epic failure”, adding:

“It is hard to see how continuing this approach could be justified”?

Will she at least undertake to ask the independent expert panel which reported on the safety, humaneness and effectiveness of year 1 of the cull to report on year 2?

Elizabeth Truss: I thank the hon. Lady for her congratulations. Let us be absolutely clear: the reality is that bovine TB represents a massive threat to our dairy and beef industries. We are looking at the potential loss of over £1 billion of economic growth in our country. We need to look at the best scientific evidence. I have already spoken with the Department’s scientific adviser about this precise subject. We are progressing with our programme, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State outlined.

Meanwhile Dan Rogerson unspectacularly continues to deal with a threat which is becoming more important:

Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): What steps she is taking to reduce the threat of disease to the UK's plants and trees. [904923]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dan Rogerson): On 30 April, we published a plant biosecurity strategy, which addresses the recommendations of the Tree Health and Plant Expert Biosecurity Taskforce and sets out a new approach to plant and tree health. We have also produced a prioritised plant health risk register, the first of its kind globally; published a new tree health management plan; undertaken work on contingency planning; continued to commission high quality research; and recruited a senior chief plant health officer.

Mr Jones: Given the importance of trees to our economy and environment, not least in my constituency of Nuneaton where we recently lost a number of trees to disease, what action are the Government taking when specific threats are identified?

Dan Rogerson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this. We have produced a prioritised plant health risk register to identify risk and to agree priorities for action. We have also produced new contingency plans for plant diseases and we will be testing them in an exercise later this year. The measures in the new tree health management plan set out clearly the approaches that we are taking, for example against chalara, phytophthora ramorum and oak processionary moth. As soon as we were aware of a threat to plane trees, we moved quickly to impose an import restriction on them.