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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 547

Paragraph Numbers 77 to 86

Volume 3

Chapter 6

Subsection 10

Political executions

77 As a further deterrent to political opposition, the government introduced the maximum penalty of death for sabotage in 1962. A number of people were subsequently executed as a result of their involvement in acts of sabotage.

78 Mr John Harris10, a teacher and member of the ARM, was arrested for placing a bomb in the concourse of the Johannesburg railway station on 24 July 1964. One person died and several others were injured. John Harris was charged with murder and two counts of sabotage. The SAIRR reported that John Harris admitted planting the bomb and said that he intended a spectacular demonstration as a means of bringing about a change of government. A few minutes before the bomb was due to explode, he had telephoned a warning to the police and to two newspapers. He had expected the concourse to be cleared so that no one would be hurt. Mr Justice Ludorf found Harris guilty of murder and sentenced him to death. John Harris was the only white person to be executed for political crimes during the Commission’s mandate period.

79 Ms Clasina Vogel [JB04948/03WR] was one of the people injured in the Johannesburg station blast on 24 July 1964, suffering burn wounds to her body, hands, legs, face and head, shrapnel wounds on her legs and burst eardrums.

THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT JOHN HARRIS WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE BOMBING OF THE JOHANNESBURG STATION, WHICH RESULTED IN THE DEATH OF ONE PERSON AND THE INJURY OF MANY OTHERS, INCLUDING CLASINA VOGEL, ON 24 JULY 1964. THE COMMISSION FINDS JOHN HARRIS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE COMMISSION OF GROSS HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS.
9 SAIRR Survey, 1964. 10 John Harris’s widow made a statement to the Commission [KZN/MR/008/DN].
Imprisonment

80 People who were imprisoned because of their involvement in political opposition faced severe prison conditions during this period. At its special hearing on prisons, the Commission received a number of submissions about prison conditions from people jailed for their political activities, including some of the first MK members jailed on Robben Island.

81 Mr Robert Strachan [JB04416/990VE] was arrested in March 1962 and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in Pretoria Central prison for contravention of the Explosives Act. He was kept in solitary confinement for the first eleven months of his imprisonment. Harold Strachan later gave a detailed account of conditions at Pretoria Central Prison to Rand Daily Mail journalist Mr Benjamin Pogrund, who published the account despite severe reporting restrictions imposed by the Prisons Act.

82 Mr Andrew Masondo [JB4855/01GTSOW] was amongst the first ten MK members on Robben Island. He told the Commission that black prisoners were treated differently from whites. On one occasion he did not take off his cap quickly enough:

Piet, he pointed a gun at me and started beating me ... started beating me. For me it was a very, very difficult thing, I’m not used to people beating me and I don’t fight back but I had to endure that so they beat me up. I don’t think I would have recognised myself when I left there. I was bleeding through the eyes, bleeding through the nose, bleeding through the mouth, I was nice and rotund and I went back into hospital for the next six weeks.
Exile

83 MK sent approximately 300 recruits across South Africa’s borders for military training in sympathetic African countries as well as in China and the Soviet Union. Efforts were made to infiltrate South Africa via Zimbabwe. The ANC formed an alliance with the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and conducted joint operations against the Rhodesian army (and the SAP) in the Wankie area. Some of these early recruits were captured and repatriated by the British colonial authorities in what was then Northern Rhodesia, after which they were detained and tortured by the SAP.

84 Mr Norman Mmitshane [JB00733/03NW], an MK member who underwent military training in China, was detained and tortured in 1964 and then sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment on Robben Island for assisting ANC recruits to leave the country for military training.

Covert action

85 Mr Abraham Onkgopotse Tiro [JB001/03NWRUS], president of the Student Representative Council at the University of the North and a member of SASO, was one of five students who left the country secretly for Botswana. Tiro had been expelled from the University of the North for a speech he made at a graduation ceremony in 1972. His expulsion sparked off mass student unrest on the campuses of the so-called black universities. Tiro left South Africa for military training in Botswana just before the issue of a warrant for his arrest.

86 In February 1974, Tiro was killed by a parcel bomb sent to him in Botswana, becoming one of the first victims of the former state’s use of extra-judicial means to control political opposition. The bomb is believed to have been sent by Dries Verwey and Mike Koen of the Operational Arm of the BOSS ‘Z-Squad’ operating in Switzerland at the time.11

THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT, IN ALL PROBABILITY, TIRO’S DEATH WAS THE RESULT OF THE WORK OF MR DRIES VERWEY AND MR MIKE KUHN, MEMBERS OF THE ‘Z SQUAD’, THE OPERATIONAL ARM OF BOSS, THE INTELLIGENCE-GATHERING AGENCY OF THE GOVERNMENT AT THE TIME.
THE COMMISSION FINDS FURTHER THAT THE FORMER STATE AND THE MINISTER OF LAW AND ORDER WERE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ASSASSINATION OF ABRAHAM ONKGOPOTSE TIRO.
 
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