Nelson Mandela’s lawyer dies at 85


Joel Joffe, a South African- born, Jewish attorney and human rights lawyer, died in London on Sunday at the age of 85 as confirmed by Oxfam, the aid agency that he chaired.

Joffe was born to a Jewish family in Johannesburg, South Africa, on May 12, 1932. He studied business and then law at Witwatersrand University in South Africa, and graduated in 1955.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation said with great sadness that, “Our condolences go out to his (Joel Joffe) family, friends, his comrades and all the people that he helped in his life as an attorney.”

Joel is the lawyer that defended the once President of South Africa, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, in 1963-4, against the white minority rule in the Rivonia trial. The trial unfortunately, saw Mandela given a life sentence for sabotage against the apartheid South Africa policy.
Fortunately, Mandela only served 27 years in prison and was released in 1990, and later became the president of the new racially-equal South Africa.

Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s wife, approached him (Joel) and asked him to defend her husband in the Rinovia trial, which several leading members of the African National congress (ANC) liberation movement had already faced charges.

In his autobiography, Mandela described Joffe’s role as being “the general behind the scenes in our defense”.

After Mandela’s trial, when Joel left South Africa for England in 1965. He founded a big insurance firm and later became a parliamentarian.

In England, Joffe later became the chairman of Oxfam from 1995 to 2001.

“He was able to use his sharp legal mind and years of experience in business to challenge authority and increase the effectiveness of our work around the world,” said Mark Goldring, the chief executive of Oxfam’s UK branch, upon Joffe’s death.

More people spoke about how wonderful of a man lawyer Joel Joffe has been throughout his life time, and appreciated his work.

“Joffe was an iconic figure, who never sought the limelight, he just supported everybody else,” said Peter Hain, the leading British anti-apartheid campaigner.

“Jose was a totally generous person, warm, passionate and continued to raise the flag for the anti-apartheid struggle and subsequently, the new South Africa,” Hain added

“For me, it was about saving the lives of these wonderful people,” Joel Joffe, once told BBC radio in 2007.
In 2007, Joffe wrote and published a book concerning his experiences in South Africa entitled, “The state Vs. Nelson Mandela: The trial that changed South Africa.

On reading the book, Mandela wrote on its foreword, “one of the most reliable sources for understanding what happened at the trial, and how we came to live and see the democracy triumph in South Africa”.


Correspondent: Shamilah Namuddu

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