Struggle heroes on trial

2008-07-16 00:00

Who remembers the names Jabu Masina, Ting Ting Masango, Neo Potsane and Joseph Makhura? Probably not many people at all. One who cannot but remember is author Peter Harris, whose experiences as their advocate marked him deeply. These are the names of the MK soldiers who came to be known as “the Delmas four” after the Highveld town where they were tried in 1987.

This book is many things, all of them good. Harris has created a gripping courtroom drama-cum-political thriller from a high-profile political trial and a series of coincidences that would elicit howls of disbelief if they appeared in a novel. In this case, truth really is stranger than fiction.

One of the most menacing characters is a bomb, which almost takes on a life of its own, building suspense to an unbearable pitch. I confess that I read the end, so desperate was my need to “know what happens”.

It is a profoundly moving tribute to the sacrifices thousands of South Africans made during “the struggle”, offering insight into what drove ordinary people to do extraordinary things. It is also a reminder of just how far we have come since the horrors of the apartheid eighties. Simon Wiesenthal never let up saying of the Holocaust: “We must never forget”; and neither should we.

“Struggle heroes appear in their revolutionary prime, untainted by the soul-demolishing experience of government,” says a press release, which accounts for the sense of wistful disappointment and “if only …” that I was left with.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, as many have remarked to Harris, it is a book about hope, something South Africans need badly right now, just as they did 20 years ago. He commented that many of the characters are still around “and it’s not too late for them to make a positive contribution”.

Do whatever it takes to read this book: borrow it, spend your book club allowance on it or sit in a bookstore coffee shop every day for a week.

It should be mandatory reading for all of us.

Julia Denny-Dimitriou

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