The 2017 Bram Fischer Memorial Lecture was the 10th annual lecture and in this special anniversary year the Rhodes Trust was delighted to welcome an outstanding speaker – Mr Sipho Pityana.
Bram Fischer (Orange Free State & New College 1931) is one of many Rhodes Scholars to have helped to shape the future of his or her country. Bram Fischer was a South African lawyer of Afrikaner descent, notable for anti-apartheid activism and for the legal defence of anti-apartheid figures, including Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia Trial. Nelson Mandela said, “Bram Fischer challenged his own people because he felt that what they were doing was morally wrong. As an Afrikaner, his conscience forced him to be ostracised by his own people and he showed a level of courage and sacrifice that was immeasurable. I fought only against injustice, not against my own people.” Bram was sentenced to life imprisonment on 9 May 1966 and remained a prisoner until his death on 8 May 1975, at age 67. Nelson Mandela, refused permission to attend the funeral, was to write subsequently: “The dictators of oppression and brutality had other unintended effects and that is what produced the Bram Fischer’s of our time – men of such extraordinary courage, wisdom and generosity that their like may never be known again.”
This year’s lecture was dedicated to the memory of Lord Joffe who passed away on 18 June 2017. Lord Joffe was a dedicated supporter of the Bram Fischer Memorial Lecture since its re-launch in 2007. Despite a remarkable legal career, during which he served as an instructing solicitor for Nelson Mandela’s defence team at the Rivonia trial, he was always modest and dedicated himself to promoting the legacy of Bram Fischer. He will be greatly missed. Two other individuals who played a fundamental supporting role in the memorial lecture’s establishment, along with Lord Joffe, were Alan Ryan (then Warden of New College) and Dave Anderson (then at African Studies, now at Warwick).
Mr Sipho Pityana, businessman and civil society activist, spoke on ‘Can South Africa’s Constitutional Democracy be Sustained?’. Mr Pityana has a long history of political activism in both liberation and trade union politics. Following the end of apartheid he was a Director General in the departments of Labour and later Foreign Affairs, and now serves as Chairman of Anglo Gold Ashanti. Today he spends much of his time campaigning to promote and protect the South African constitution and is the convenor of Save South Africa and the chairperson of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution.
Mr Pityana spoke about the lack of leadership within the South African context and how this plays to the history and memory of corruption. He also spoke about the ‘Save South Africa Campaign’ and its emphasis on transparency and the constitution’s supreme law. It has now come to the 1 year anniversary of the campaign, and 100,000 people from various backgrounds and professions have protested and used the constitution when necessary, to combat the ANC party. During the question and answer section there was a discussion on the role of other members of parliament, and the international dimension of the political scene.
To complete the lecture, a portrait of Bram Fischer was revealed commissioned by the Rhodes Trust in the name of Lord Joffe.