The annual Bram Fischer Memorial Lecture was given this afternoon by Professor Denis Goldberg, who spoke on Bram Fischer: Lawyer, activist, freedom fighter. The memorial lecture is in honour of Bram Fischer QC (Orange Free State & New College 1931), who defended Nelson Mandela and other leaders of the liberation movement when on trial for their lives, and who himself died in imprisonment in 1975. Before the Bram Fischer lecture started, Stephen Clingman, the biographer of Bram Fischer, set the scene by speaking on the theme of Bram Fischer and the Democratic Transition in South Africa.
Professor Goldberg's talk was wide ranging, deeply personal and very moving. He recounted his early meetings with Bram Fischer, and his memories from the Rivonia Trial and later as a fellow prisoner for nine years until Bram Fischer's death from cancer. Professor Goldberg spoke about Bram Fischer's life of great contradictions and of strong personal convictions, describing a man who supressed his emotions but who had a 'twinkly sense of fun'. He aimed to describe the whole man; focusing both on his political activism, but also his love of classical and formal jazz music, and memories such as his reading from Alice in Wonderlandduring one Christmas in prison. It was an account of captivity and a fight for freedom; not for individual freedom but the freedom found within social justice. The Warden of Rhodes House, Charles Conn (Massachusetts & Balliol 1983), commented: "It was a remarkable speech and I found the reflections on their shared time in prison very evocative. The historical context of the time was brought to life and it was an honour to hear Professor Goldberg's memories and insights."
Professor Goldberg grew up in Cape Town and took part in forming the Congress of Democrats, of which he became leader. This in turn allied itself with the African National Congress (ANC) and other congresses and in 1961 when the underground armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe was founded, Goldberg became a technical officer. In 1963 he was arrested at the Rivonia headquarters of their army. He was sentenced in 1964 at the end of the famous Rivonia Trial to four terms of life imprisonment. In 1985, after 22 years in prison, he was released and moved to London where he resumed his work in the ANC in its London office from 1985 to 1994. He was a spokesperson for the ANC and also represented it at the Anti-Apartheid Committee of the United Nations. A large group of US organisations presented Professor Goldberg with the Albert Luthuli Peace Prize in recognition of his work against apartheid.
This year's Bram Fischer Lecture also supported the work of the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk, and was dedicated to the memory of Wanyama Wanyonyi, a lawyer in Kenya who was assassinated in September 2013.
A video of the lecture can be seen below: (To follow)