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Umkhonto we Sizwe's first explosives whizz Harold Strachan dies

The wall outside the office of a struggle activist and attorney Feizal Motala in Overport, Durban. Picture: Zanele Zulu/African News Agency (ANA)

The wall outside the office of a struggle activist and attorney Feizal Motala in Overport, Durban. Picture: Zanele Zulu/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Feb 16, 2020


Durban - Anti-Apartheid veteran and Umkhonto we Sizwe’s first explosives expert joined the ranks of freedom fighters who have departed this world.

Harold “Jock” Strachan died at the age of 94 on Thursday at The Association for the Aged in Durban.

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His ex-wife Maggie Strachan said in accordance with his wishes there would be no funeral or service. He was cremated and the family asked that their privacy be respected.

This was in line with his atheist and communist beliefs. Strachan was a pilot in World War II and later went on to fight for a free South Africa.

Feizal Motala read from a memoir-like affidavit from his long-time friend at his offices in Overport, Durban. 

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The wall outside Motala’s offices has a large mural that depicted the faces of “unsung heroes of the Struggle”, one of which is Strachan.

The others are Abdul Khalek Mohamed Docrat, Chota Motala and Phyllis Naidoo. Strachan’s explosive expertise was cultivated by Govan Mbeki. 

“Mbeki thought he knew how to make bombs. Harold told him he did not, but Mbeki was adamant; if he had flown a bomber, he must know how to make bombs, and he instructed him to do so.” 

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On Strachan’s first attempt at bomb-making he blew up a toilet close to a beach in Port Elizabeth.

“As that pan rocketed into the air and landed in the Indian Ocean, Joe Slovo heralded him as a freedom fighter. But Harold responded that this was not his idea of freedom.”

Strachan, he said, believed many in the leadership had too much blood on their hands.

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“Harold was for the Struggle but was against the ANC, despite working with them.” 

As an early member of MK, Strachan was caught when he destroyed the Department of Bantu Affairs in Port Elizabeth and sent to prison. 

“He landed up with common whites, as there were no prisons for white political prisoners, and they regarded him as a traitor.”

Motala said Strachan always counted himself lucky as he only served six years compared with the next “batch” of fighters, such as 

Nelson Mandela who were given life sentences. On his release, Strachan joined the Rand Daily Mail and wrote on how the prison authorities were contravening regulations. He was imprisoned for a further 18 months.

“In prison terms, there are post- and pre-Strachan times. After his imprisonment, conditions had improved. Utensils were not rusted and food had gotten better, because of his articles.”

Strachan was also banned and placed under house arrest for a decade between 1965 and 1975. Motala said one memory that always stood out for him was when Strachan and his wife stood at the front of a group of black people protesting against imprisonment without trial. 

“Maggie said she was going to protest and asked if he was going to join. He knew the authorities would not kill a white person and they went to the front line. This was one month after Sharpeville, tensions were high and the commandant told the other whites to move as guards were about to fire. But fortunately, there were no shots.”

Motala said Strachan remained the fiery opinionated fighter until his final breath. The MK Veterans Association was unaware of Strachan’s death on Saturday.


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Sunday Tribune

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