Peter Harris (LLM 1984-89) was born in Durban and practised law for 15 years. In the early 1990s he was seconded to the South African National Peace Accord, after which he headed the Monitoring Directorate of the Independent Electoral Commission for the 1994 election. He then returned to law and did international consulting for the UN as an election operations expert in Mexico, Haiti and other places.
Following this he was appointed Director of Programmes at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance in Stockholm for two years. Back in South Africa he co-founded the Resolve Group Management Consultancy of which he is the current Executive Chairman.
He has recently published a new book entitled A Just Defiance. This looks at the case of four young black men in Pretoria who were arrested for a horrific string of political murders in 1987. There’s no doubt that they’re guilty of everything they’re accused of – and more. But in a society driven by brutal repression and racial tensions, are they assassins or freedom fighters? Peter was the lawyer called upon to defend them.
When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I don’t think I was ever quite sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I did realise, probably about half way through high school, that I wanted to study law, although at that point, it was just pure law and not being a human rights lawyer. Having said that, I am not sure I am what one would call a “lawyers’ lawyer”. I always liked the fact of what the law could achieve, particularly in relation to the fight against apartheid.
What was the best careers advice you were given?
I am not sure that I was given much careers advice, and if I had, I probably wouldn’t have taken it.
Describe yourself in three words
Given to extremes
What are the most challenging parts of your job?
The most challenging part of my job is trying to put bread on the table as well as keeping up my hobby of writing.
What have you done that you are most proud of?
I think that I am most proud of the work that I did as a human rights lawyer. In terms of my private life, my children are my special joy.
What drives you?
What single thing would most improve the quality of your life?
I think that if I were able to write full time and still make a good enough living to sustain my family, that would be the most desirable thing to improve my quality of life.
What three objects would you take with you to a desert island?
I would take books, whiskey and a water purifier to a desert island.
Where do you hope to be in 10 years’ time?
In 10 years time I hope to still be writing.
How would you like to be remembered?
I would like to be remembered fondly and hopefully, as someone who did the right thing.
What are your favourite memories of your university years at Warwick?
My favourite memories of my university years at Warwick are the exceptional people I met and with whom I am still friends, as well as the amazing offerings of the campus and the extraordinary times we had there.
Do you have any advice for new graduates and undergraduates?
The only advice I can offer new graduates is make sure you pass well and insist on enjoying every minute of it.
Anything else you would like to add?
Don’t let if pass by in a blur
Peter Harris: the facts
|Career||Lawyer and currently Executive Chairperson of a Management Consultancy
||Johannesburg, South Africa
|Education||BA LLB; LLM
|Interests||Running, writing, avoiding the extremes when I can, and being with my family.|