Bram Fischer

By: Brooke Sicco

"If by my fight I can encourage even some people to think about, to understand and to abandon the policies they now so blindly follow, I shall not regret any punishment I may incur… "

-Bram Fischer


Abram Fischer know to most as Bram Fischer was born into a very prominent Afrikaner family. His father was an important Orange Free State judge. As he grew older he too followed his fathers footsteps and pursued a law career. He was a Rhodes Scholar who attended Oxford University. He became a lawyer and was involved in the Miners' Strike of 1964 and was charged with incitement, however this did not stop his efforts for anti-apartheid. Bram was one of the leaders of the SACP and helped with the writing of the ANC constitution. His involvement with the SACP became more dangerous after the Suppression of Communism Act. He was forced to go into hiding but he was eventually found and sentenced to prison for life, which is where he died.

Bram Fischer is more prominently known for his work defending anti-apartheid leaders like Nelson Mandela in both the Treason Trial and the Rivonia Trial. Fischer risked a lot supporting the anti-apartheid movement considering he was from an esteemed family in South Africa, and could have still had an extremely successful career not supporting the anti-apartheid movement and live a less risky life. However, his work with the Treason Trail were crucial to keeping the anti-apartheid movement alive, because it kept the leaders of the anti-apartheid movement out of jail, so they could continue their efforts against apartheid. With the Rivonia Trial he also faced a risky situation. He could have easily been one of the people being tried but just happened not to be at the farm when the police arrived. Although he could not keep the leaders out of jail he kept them from being sentenced with the death penalty. If the main leaders of the anti-apartheid movement were killed there would have likely been no more faith in the anti-apartheid movement to be successful.

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Bram Fischer (left) and Chief Albert Luthuli (center) at the Treason Trial in Pretoria

The Bram Fischer Memorial Lecture By: Nelson Mandela (9th of June 1995)

We here present and many thousands elsewhere are grateful to the Legal Resources Centre for taking the initiative in establishing a Bram Fischer Memorial Lecture. I thank you for asking me to deliver the first. I am confident that there will be Bram Fischer Memorial Lectures for as long as South Africans yearn for freedom in a non-racial democratic South Africa.

Bram Fischer was a great advocate and a great patriot. The lectures that will follow this inaugural lecture will provide opportunities for lawyers and others to address fundamental issues relating to law and society with which Bram Fischer was deeply concerned, and which are also concerns of the Legal Resources Centre. But as this is the first Bram Fischer Lecture I have chosen to talk about the man rather than the law.

The last time that I saw Bram Fischer was on Robben Island about two weeks after we had been sentenced to life imprisonment. It was in June 1964. He came with our attorney Joel Joffe, to see how we had settled in and whether or not we stood by our decision not to appeal. I was restrained by the Major from hugging him. Though he was strongly of the view that we should appeal he resigned himself to our decision. He and Joel wanted to know how we were being treated and we told them. I then asked Bram about Molly, his wife. No sooner had I pronounced Molly's name than Bram stood up, excused himself and abruptly walked out of the room. A few minutes later he returned, once again composed, and resumed the conversation but without answering my question. On our way back to the cells the Major asked me whether I considered Bram Fischer's behaviour strange. I said yes it had been. He told me that Molly had died in a car accident the previous week.

We were devastated by the news. Molly was a wonderful woman, generous and unselfish, utterly without prejudice. She had supported Bram in more ways than it was possible to know. She had been a wife, colleague and a comrade.

The refusal to talk about Molly and what had happened was typical of Bram's character. He was a stoic, a man who never burdened his friends with his own pain and troubles. He had come to advise us and to express concern for our predicament;he did not want to become the focus of our concern.

Bram was a courageous man who followed the most difficult course any person could choose to follow. He challenged his own people because he felt that what they were doing was morally wrong. As an Afrikaner whose conscience forced him to reject his own heritage and be ostracised by his own people, he showed a level of courage and sacrifice that was in a class by itself. I fought only against injustice not against my own people.

Shortly after his arrest that led to him being sentenced to life imprisonment, Bram Fischer was asked whether his sacrifice of family and legal practice, being hunted as an outlaw and the inevitable harsh punishment that was to follow, was worth the gains of leading the underground struggle for less than a year. He was offended by the question. He replied sharply "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?"

I waited for over 70 years to cast my first vote. I chose to do it near the grave of John Dube, the first President of the ANC, the African patriot that had helped found the organisation in 1912. I voted not only for myself alone but for many who took part in our struggle. I felt that with me when I voted were Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani, Chief Albert Luthuli and Bram Fischer. I felt that Josiah Gumede, G M Naicker, Dr Abdullah Abdurahman, Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Yusuf Dadoo, Moses Kotane, Steve Biko and many others were there. I felt that each one of them held my hand that made the cross, helped me to fold the ballot paper and push it into the ballot box.

Even his political opponents would agree with us his comrades that Bram Fischer could have become prime minister or the chief justice of South Africa if he had chosen to follow the narrow path of Afrikaner nationalism. He chose instead the long and hard road to freedom not only for himself but for all of us. He chose the road that had to pass through the jail. He travelled it with courage and dignity. He served as an example to many who followed him.

I choose this excerpt of the speech because I found it showed how much of an effect Bram Fischer had on those he helped and gave insight to who he truly was as a person.

For the rest of the speech click the following link: The Bram Fischer Memorial Lecture

Reference Section

"Abram Fischer." South African History Online. N.p., 31 Mar. 2010. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

Bram Fischer. Digital image. ZAR. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

Bram Fischer (left) and Chief Albert Luthuli (centre) at the Treason Trial in Pretoria. © Bailey's African History Archives. Digital image. South African History Online. N.p., n.d.

Web. 14 Nov. 2015

Bram Fischer Speaking. Digital image. FIPA. N.p., 2007. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.

Rochman, Hazel. "Bram Fischer: Afrikaner Revolutionary." Booklist 15 Apr. 1998: 1399.

Biography in Context. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

"The First Bram Fischer Memorial Lecture, Delivered by President Nelson R. Mandela

Market Theatre, Johannesburg, 9 June 1995." South African History Online. N.p.,

n.d.Web. 15 Nov. 2015.