A Just Defiance: Bombmakers, Insurgents, and the Treason Trial of the Delmas Four

A Just Defiance: Bombmakers, Insurgents, and the Treason Trial of the Delmas Four

A Just Defiance: Bombmakers, Insurgents, and the Treason Trial of the Delmas Four

A Just Defiance: Bombmakers, Insurgents, and the Treason Trial of the Delmas Four


Both a riveting courtroom drama and a real-life thriller, A Just Defiance tells the story of four young black South Africans who were arrested for a string of political murders in 1987. In gripping prose, Peter Harris--the white lawyer who defended the men--describes how he came to understand, while constructing the case to save the defendants from the death penalty, the chain of events that led them to undergo training at ANC camps in Angola and return to their homeland to execute some of the apartheid regime's most notorious collaborators. The shocking twists and turns of the high-profile trial kept the public in suspense during the dying days of apartheid.

Harris's account of the trial is intercut with flashbacks to instances of the cold-blooded brilliance and deadly efficiency of the squad's operations. We see Nelson Mandela recently released from Robben Island as he begins negotiations that will eventually lead to the assumption of power by the ANC. We read about bomb-making and assassination attempts by both the ANC and the South African police. A critical and popular success in South Africa, this book is a tale of people driven to extremes by injustice and repression, and of ordinary citizens caught up in extraordinary events. Finally, it is the story of a country's search for reconciliation, one that captures the moral vertigo of South Africa's violent apartheid years.


It is April 1987. I’m on the Pretoria highway in the fast lane, ears pinned back, being pulled along in the slipstream of a seventy-seater school bus going like hell, the children clustered up against the large back window, pulling faces at me, smiling and waving. I am not enjoying myself.

This morning the phone rang at five o’clock. Not a good time for me. I come up from a heavy sleep, grope clumsily for the instrument on the bedside table. Alongside me my wife Caroline turns away from the noise and pulls at the duvet. She’s a journalist. I’m a lawyer. Because of our jobs the phone rings at all hours of the day and night. It’s something we never get used to.

My voice is a croak when I answer.

‘Is that Peter Harris?’ says someone I don’t recognise.

‘I’m afraid so,’ I reply.

‘This call is from Lusaka. Please visit Jabu Masina, Ting Ting Masango, Neo Potsane and Joseph Makhura in Pretoria Central Maximum Security, they need to see you urgently. Please see what you can do to assist them.’

I have notepaper and a pen beside the phone. I scribble down the names. ‘No problem,’ I say, but the caller has cut the connection.

‘What is it?’ mumbles Caroline.

‘That’s what I’ve got to find out,’ I say, heading for the bathroom.

Maximum Security means ‘political’, nothing else. Serial killers, sadistic rapists, wild psychotics, mass murderers never make it close to Maximum Security. Maximum Security is for the ‘politicals’, my clients.

I’ve got the easy job. They get charged, I represent them, and then they go to jail, usually for lengthy periods. Then I visit them. In places like Pretoria Central or the ‘snakepit’ in Kroonstad, on Robben Island or at Diepkloof prison, otherwise known as ‘Sun City’ after the fantasy pleasure dome built by Sol Kerzner in Bop. Bophuthatswana to the apartheid architects.

‘Are they guilty?’

Well, yes, they are … mostly. At least the ones who end up in those kinds of places are, if guilty is the right word. Sadly, I suppose, I don’t have that many innocent clients. Not many lawyers do. Worse still, my . . .

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