Journalist George Arthur Heard was the elder son of Arthur Henry Heard, inspector of works in Bloemfontein, and his wife, Millicent Agnes Elliot. He was one of South Africa's best-known and most controversial political journalists in the 1930's and early 1940's. His disappearance without a trace on 8 August 1945 caused a sensation at the time and remains a mystery.
After attending St Andrew's School in Bloemfontein, Heard obtained a BA degree in Economics and Politics at Grey University College, now the University of the Free State. In 1923 he joined Friend Newspapers in Bloemfontein and became a reporter on the staff of The Friend. Ten years later he joined the Rand Daily Mail in Johannesburg, travelling annually to Cape Town to report on Parliament. He was promoted to assistant editor of the Rand Daily Mail and later became the political columnist of the Sunday Times.
In 1937 Heard forecast the Budget with such accuracy that the Government felt obliged to order a magisterial inquiry in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act. Heard refused to testify, submitting that the ethics of journalism forebade him to disclose his source of information. He was sentenced to eight day's imprisonment, which was suspended to permit an appeal. The appeal, which involved weighty constitutional and ethical issues, was rejected by the Cape Supreme Court. Before a further appeal could be brought before the Appellate Division, the Government ended the matter by discharging Heard's committal to prison. In September 1939 Heard was involved in lobbying for South Africa to enter the war on the Allied side.
After the declaration of war, he exposed what he claimed were security breaches and Nazi sympathies in the SABC. Some dismissals and internments followed.
Heard coined the terms Malanzi and communazi. Such public asperity contrasted with his private gentleness and gift for warm personal relationships, notably with his political adversaries. Though he favoured aid for Russia and the opening of a second front, there is no reason to suppose that Heard was a Marxist. However, he was certainly sympathetic to the mild brand of socialism espoused by the white Labour Party of that era. In 1942 his employers became restive about his political activities, particularly his public speeches on controversial issues. Faced with an ultimatum to stop speaking in public, Heard resigned, and, at great financial sacrifice, joined South Africa's embryonic naval forces in the lowest of all ranks as an able-bodied seaman. He was later commissioned and attained the rank of lieutenant.
While on home leave with his family in Johannesburg in 1945, and with the end of the war in sight, he spoke of his firm intention to re-enter journalism as soon as he was demobilized. Back in Cape Town, he disappeared without a trace. Prominent among the many theories about his disappearance are accidental death and murder, perhaps political murder. Those who take the political line cite an earlier statement to Heard by a senior policeman that he was 'high on the Ossewa-Brandwag's death list'. However, there is no evidence to support this or any other theory.
An application by his wife for presumption of death was turned down by the Supreme Court in 1947, but succeeded in 1952. Heard's name is engraved at the Plymouth Naval Memorial in Britain in the section for those with no known grave. Heard married Vida Stodden in 1932. His wife was the editor of Homestead, a supplement to the Farmer's Weekly.
Their elder son, Raymond, became a journalist in Canada and later a government advisor to a leading Canadian bank. The younger son, Anthony, was editor of the Cape Times from 1971 to 1987, after which he became a freelance writer in Cape Town.
James McClurg, retired journalist and broadcast and newspaper manager in Southern Africa