Frederick John Harris

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Frederick John Harris
Born (1937-07-04)4 July 1937
Died 1 April 1965(1965-04-01) (aged 27)
Cause of death Hanging
Occupation schoolteacher
Criminal charge Murder

Frederick John Harris (4 July 1937 – 1 April 1965) (known as John Harris) was a South African schoolteacher and anti-apartheid campaigner who turned to terrorism and was executed after a bomb attack on a railway station.

Harris was Chairman of SANROC (the South African Non Racial Olympic Committee), which in 1964 petitioned the International Olympic Committee to have South Africa excluded from the Olympics for fielding a white-only team. After being arrested for his political activities, he became a member of the African Resistance Movement (ARM).[1]

On 24 July 1964, Harris telephoned the Johannesburg Railway Police to inform them that a bomb had been planted on a whites-only platform of Johannesburg Park Station. The bomb shortly after exploded, killing a 77-year-old woman and injuring 23 others. Harris was represented at trial by David Soggot, who later became one of South Africa's most prominent civil rights lawyers. Harris, a school teacher, was convicted of murder, and hanged on 1 April 1965.[2] Harris famously went to the gallows singing We Shall Overcome, an Civil Rights Movement protest song.[3]

At his cremation, 15-year-old Peter Hain (whose family had been friendly with Harris) stood and recited Ecclesiastes 3:3 A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up.[4] Peter Hain later became active in anti-apartheid resistance while in exile in London, and a primary proponent of sanctions to end apartheid. He later stood for a political seat in Britain and never returned to live in South Africa.

A memorial to remember Harris's life was held around the 40th anniversary of his death at Freedom Park in Pretoria.

Harris was the only white person executed for crimes committed in resistance to apartheid.[5] All those executed for such crimes were honoured by South Africa's president, Jacob Zuma, on the occasion of the launch of the Gallows Museum at the C Max Pretoria Central Correctional Centre on 15 December 2011: "The 134 men were terrorists or trouble makers to the authorities then. But to their people and families, they were freedom fighters who wanted to see a free, democratic and non-sexist South Africa."[6]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Reddy, E.S., Sports and the liberation struggle : a tribute to Sam Ramsamy and others who fought apartheid sport, archived from the original on 2016-03-06 
  2. ^ Okoth 2006, p. 181.
  3. ^ Moorhead, Joanna (August 13, 2016). "My activist father was hanged". The Guardian. London. Retrieved February 12, 2017. 
  4. ^ Herbstein 2004, p. 340.
  5. ^ Wetmore 2001, p. 145.
  6. ^ "Keynote Address by President Jacob Zuma on the occasion of the launch of the Gallows Museum at the Pretoria Central Correctional Centre". thepresidency.gov.za. 15 December 2011. Retrieved 2016-07-07. 

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