Alert! Local books diva Jenny Crwys-Williams has named Peter Harris’ account of his defense of the “Delmas Four” during their murder and treason trial in the late-1980s, In a Different Time, as her book of the year.
This is according to a host of different sources. I haven’t been able to get direct confirmation, either from Crwys-Williams or from ye olde Google searches, but we can take it on good authority that In a Different Time is the one.
To honour her choice, we present this In a Different Time retrospective almanac:
Interview and book summary: Jenny Crwys-Williams and Peter Harris
Jenny Crwys-Williams: “Peter Harris’s book is going to knock your socks off. It reads like a John Grisham novel, but it’s all true. It’s got three threads to it: a bomb that is being made for somebody; it’s got a political trial that is just astonishing; and for the very first time in South African literature, the inside story of the Umkhonto we Sizwe assassination unit. Can you resist this?”
This dramatic and emotional account of an ANC assassination squad – which operated for an unprecedented 11 months inside South Africa before being captured, tortured and tried – took place in the 80s, when South Africa was on a knife’s edge. Human rights lawyer Peter Harris was in the thick of it.
Jenny: “April 1987, 21 years ago – that’s when it all began for you. Why did it take you so long to write the book?”
Mike Nicol and Peter Harris discuss In a Different Time
An especially lettered crowd gathered last night at the Book Lounge in Cape Town to hear Mike Nicol interview Peter Harris about his life as a lawyer, most specifically during apartheid, when he defended a group of young men known as “The Delmas Four”, fighting againsts impossible odds to save them from the gallows. The fight comprises the story of his book, In A Different Time.
Harris informed us that the title of In a Different Time is borrowed from a poem by Chris Hani – a prhrase which sets the tone for the book’s political inflection. Despite this, Harris said that he didn’t want the book to be a “grand-standing anti-Apartheid” tome.
Reviews of In a Different Time
Excerpt from In a Different Time
Neo Potsane had never been so cold in his life. Thick snow covered the military camp at Teterow, some 50km from the German Democratic Republic’s Baltic Sea port of Rostock.
The clothing the East Germans had given him was good but provided little barrier against a winter that the instructors described as the coldest in years.
About 40 MK soldiers had arrived at Teterow in January 1981 for specialist training in guerrilla warfare and tactics. At first, Neo had been excited, honoured at being among a select few chosen for special training.
The flight from Luanda, Angola, to East Berlin was an adventure, a hell of a long time in an aeroplane, but worth it to get to Europe, to the Eastern bloc, places he had only read about.
Book blurb: In a Different Time
In a Different Time is set in a South Africa gripped by unrest and political tension, when the ANC was in exile and repression at its height. It tells the story of four young South Africans who, in 1987, embark on a mission that will ultimately take them to Death Row. Jabu Masina, Ting Ting Masango, Neo Potsane and Joseph Makhura form a highly trained and experienced assassination squad reporting directly to Chris Hani, commander of Mkonto we Sizwe (MK, the anti-apartheid resistance movement). The narrative details their infiltration into the country, their operations, arrest and subsequent trial – showing these men to be the foot soldiers who have sacrificed everything. As their trial unfolds, with their attorney fighting againsts impossible odds to save them from the gallows, so too does the story of their own lives and the choices they make. Into this storyline Peter Harris, the attorney to the four and narrator of the book, weaves another strand of narrative: the construction of a bomb and its deadly journey towards its target. The result is a tale of bizarre coincidence and tragedy, a riveting courtroom drama, and a real-life political thriller that tells of the acts people will commit to preserve the status quo, and the extraordinary lengths to which people go in order to fight for what they believe.