During peak hour on Friday afternoon, July 24, 1964, a bomb exploded at the Johannesburg station. One of the injured, an elderly lady, died some days later in hospital. Her granddaughter sustained facial burns that permanently maimed her. Some twenty other persons were less seriously injured. The bomb planter, John Harris, was arrested on the same day, was brought to trial before the end of 1964, found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. His plea of not being accountable owing to a temporary mental disorder was rejected. His appeal was also unsuccessful. On April 1, 1965 he was hanged. Ever since that date allegations have been made by, among others, Gordon Winter, Peter Hain, Terry Bell, Alan D. Elson and David Beresford that Hendrik van den Bergh, who was chief of the security branch of the South African Police at the time of the station bomb, and John Vorster, who then was minister of justice, had known about the bomb before it exploded, but had done nothing to prevent its explosion. According to these accusations Van den Bergh and Vorster were accessories to the crime for which Harris was hanged.
In this article historical criticism is used to prove beyond doubt that the allegations against Van den Bergh and Vorster are false. The author shows that both the South African government and its enemies in the anti-apartheid movement exploited the station bomb incident to make propaganda. He argues, using the station bomb as a case study, that historians have the responsibility to try to clear up the minefield of historical untruths generated by propagandists for and against apartheid.
Keywords: African Resistance Movement; anti-apartheid campaign; Hendrik van den Bergh; historical criticism; Hugh Lewin; John Harris; John Vorster; propaganda; sabotage; station bomb; truth