Bram Fischer’s spirit lives on at Wits

“The spirit of Bram Fischer is still alive at Wits….Yesterday, Joel Joffe and I were privileged to meet the members from Wits Justice Project and the Law Council Student Body who have done fantastic work…”

These were the words of Sir Nicholas Stadlen, a former British High Court Judge, who led the 17-member panel discussion at the Bram Fischer colloquium hosted by Wits University, on 26 March 2015. The Wits Law School honoured Fisher with an honorary doctorate of laws on the same day.

(Listen to his full speech here.)

A day before the colloquium, the Wits Justice Project team had an opportunity to meet Sir Nicholas Stadlen and the founder of the Joffe Charitable Trust – Lord Joel Joffe – which helps fund the Project. Lord Joffe was also part of the legal team which defended the Rivonia trialists, along with Bram Fischer and George Bizos.

Wits played an important role in the history of the struggle against apartheid and injustice. Many leaders of the struggle and the lawyers who acted for them studied and formed lifelong friendship there. These include Nelson Mandela, Joe Slovo, Ruth First, George Bizos and Joel Joffe.

Sir Nicholas Stadlen, Lord Joel Joffe, Anton Harber with the Wits Justice Project Team.

Sir Nicholas Stadlen, Lord Joel Joffe, Prof Anton Harber with some of the members of the Wits Justice Project team.

The Bram Fischer Colloquium

This year marks 50 years since Abram (Bram) Fisher was arrested in 1965. In 1963 and 1964, he had been the defence advocate of the accused in the Rivonia trial. He was arrested in 1966 for his own political activities against the apartheid government and later died in 1975 still a prisoner of the apartheid state. Fischer was hailed as a “warm, kind and generous man who inspired love and admiration even among those who did not share his political beliefs”. At the time he was serving a life sentence for furthering the aims of communism and conspiracy to overthrow the apartheid government.

The Wits Colloquium panel included, among others, Mandela’s co-accused Ahmed Kathrada, Andrew Mlangeni and Denis Goldberg, as well as their lawyers George Bizos and Lord Joel Joffe, and Fischer’s daughters, Ilse Wilson and Ruth Rice.

Panellist of Bram Fischer colloquium hosted at Wits. Photo by Wits University

Panellist of Bram Fischer colloquium hosted at Wits. Photo by Wits University

Giving a speech at the honorary graduation ceremony in the afternoon, Lord Joffe paid tribute to his former co-council in the Rivonia Trial defence team, saying one of the many things he had learned from Fischer, “is that law is about justice, which appears often to be overlooked by some lawyers in running their practices. Inherent in the honourable profession of law, should surely be a commitment to justice, and to use the law to achieve justice, both for those who can afford to pay, and for those who cannot”.


Related readings:

‘I did what was Right’ Statement from the dock by Bram Fischer after the conclusion of the Rivonia Trial in 1966.

A message from underground, By Bram Fischer

Who was Abram ‘Bram’ Fischer,

Biography of Bram Fischer

A brilliant legal mind, March 26

The law is about justice, March 26

About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

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