Wits honours Bram Fischer

The life of anti-apartheid activist Bram Fischer was celebrated at Wits University this past week.

by Sinikiwe Mqadi & Queenin Masuabi

Wits honoured, anti-apartheid activist and Rivonia Trial defence lawyer Bram ‘Mr Black’ Fischer.  A posthumous honorary doctorate in law was received by his daughters, Ruth Rice and Ilse Wilson, this past Thursday.

Fischer was an Afrikaner communist who defended many anti-apartheid activists like Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki from a government which had been seeking the death penalty for the crime of sabotage.

Wits Vice-Chancellor Professor Adam Habib said that Fischer best represents the best traditions of Wits, South Africa and the future. “Fischer represented Afrikaner royalty, transcended the negative parts of the environment, defended Nelson Mandela,” Habib said.

Wits also hosted a colloquium to honour Fischer’s work. The panel consisted of Fischer’s former clients, family and friends.  Ahmed Kathrada, Max Sisulu, Andrew Mlangeni, Denis Goldberg and George Bizos were just some of the people who were part of the panel.

Fischer was an Afrikaner Communist who defended many anti-apartheid activists like Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki from a government which had been seeking the death penalty for the crime of sabotage.

“We stood for our liberty and our rights, and if Bram said something it carried weight,” Bizos said of his friend.

Max Sisulu, whose father, Walter, was a friend and client of Fischer, recalled the moments he shared with Fischer’s family. Sisulu said that Fischer would always be remembered for the influence he had on the outcomes of the trials of anti-apartheid activists.

BRAM FISCHER: Panel at the  Colloquium at the Wits University, including Lorraine Chaskalson, Ruth Rice,  Max Sisulu, Ilse Wilson, Sir Nicholas Stadlen, Professor Stephan Clingman, Dr Sholto Cross,  Ahmed Kathrada, Lord Joel Joffe, Andrew Mlangeni, Denis Goldberg, Lesley Schermbrucker, George Bizos, Mosie Moolla not pictured here) and Yvonne Malan not pictured here). Photo: Tanisha Heiberg

BRAM FISCHER: Panel at the Colloquium at the Wits University, including Lorraine Chaskalson, Ruth Rice, Max Sisulu, Ilse Wilson, Sir Nicholas Stadlen, Professor Stephan Clingman, Dr Sholto Cross, Ahmed Kathrada, Lord Joel Joffe, Andrew Mlangeni, Denis Goldberg, Lesley Schermbrucker, George Bizos, Mosie Moolla not pictured here) and Yvonne Malan not pictured here). Photo: Tanisha Heiberg

The Rivonia Trial

The Rivonia Trial took place in South Africa Between 1963 and 1964. Ten leaders of the African National Congress were tried for two hundred and twenty one acts of sabotage designed to overthrow the apartheid system.

Fischer was arrested in 1966 and and also charged with sabotage. The prosecution called for the death penalty but he was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment. He died on 8 May 1975 from cancer.

 

10 things you didn’t know about Bram Fischer

Abram Fischer, commonly known as Bram Fischer (1908-1975), was honoured at the University of Witwatersrand with an honorary doctorate and colloquium on March 26, for his place in the history of the struggle against apartheid. 

BRAM FISCHER: Panel at the  Colloquium at the Wits University, including Lorraine Chaskalson, Ruth Rice,  Max Sisulu, Ilse Wilson, Sir Nicholas Stadlen, Professor Stephan Clingman, Dr Sholto Cross,  Ahmed Kathrada, Lord Joel Joffe, Andrew Mlangeni, Denis Goldberg, Lesley Schermbrucker, George Bizos, Mosie Moolla not pictured here) and Yvonne Malan not pictured here). Photo: Tanisha Heiberg

BRAM FISCHER: Panel at the colloquium at the Wits University, including Lorraine Chaskalson, Ruth Rice, Max Sisulu, Ilse Wilson, Sir Nicholas Stadlen, Professor Stephan Clingman, Dr Sholto Cross, Ahmed Kathrada, Lord Joel Joffe, Andrew Mlangeni, Denis Goldberg, Lesley Schermbrucker, George Bizos, Mosie Moolla not pictured here) and Yvonne Malan not pictured here). Photo: Tanisha Heiberg

1.  Nelson Mandela has credited Fischer for saving him and other senior leadership of the ANC (African National Congress) from the gallows during the Rivonia Trial.

2. He is the only revolutionary communist leader to have played rugby as scrumhalf against the All Blacks for the Free State Province.

3. He has cum laude degrees in both his BA and LLB from Grey University College

WATCH THE GRADUATION CEREMONY

4. In 1930 he was awarded the Rhodes scholarship and attended New College at Oxford where he received a diploma in law and economics.

5.   His wife, Molly, who was also a political activist, died in a freak car accident shortly after the Rivonia Trial verdict, a fact that Fischer did not mention whilst visiting his comrades on Robben Island, a week later, so as not to burden them.

6. Fischer was a part time lecturer in law at Wits during the time he was building up his practice at the Bar

7. He used the surname “Black” as a pseudonym in 1965 when he went underground for 9 months

8. Whilst in prison, Fischer was unable to attend the funeral of his son Paul who suffered from cystic fibrosis and died at the age of 23

9. After his arrest and sentence, Fischer was asked whether his sacrifice was worth it. He was offended by the question and replied, “Did you ask Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki or Kathy Kathrada or any others that have already suffered this punishment? If not, why do you ask me?”

10. Fischer died cancer in 1975 at his brothers home in Bloemfontein, after being released from jail a few weeks prior.