Bram Fischer (Abram
Louis Fischer 23 Apr 1908 to 8 May 1975), was an
Afrikaner South African lawyer.
Fischer's father, Percy Fischer, was Judge
President of the Orange Free State, and his
grandfather, Abraham Fischer, had been prime
minister of the Orange River Colony.
In his youth he studied at Grey College in
Bloemfontein. He was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to
study at Oxford University in England in the early
Whilst in Europe he travelled to the Soviet
Union in 1932. It would be nearly a decade later
before he was to become a communist, but the
experience left a profound impression on him. He
wrote to his father about the Russian "kleinboer"
(literal "small farmer") along the Volga, and he
began to make a mental connection between the plight
of the Russian kleinboer and South African blacks.
In 1937 Fischer married Molly Krige, niece of
Jan Smuts, and they had three children. Fischer's
wife, Molly, was also involved in politics, being
detained without trial in the state of emergency
declared after the Sharpeville massacre of 1960.
Fischer joined the SACP in the early 1940s and soon
rose to leadership positions in the party. In 1943
he aided A.B. Xuma in revising the constitution of
the African National Congress (ANC). In 1946 he was charged with incitement
because of his position in the South African
Communist party (SACP) and the
African mineworkers' strike that year.
Fischer was a key member of the defence team for
and others in the Treason Trial of 1956-1961.
years later came the Rivonia Trial, where Nelson
Mandela, Walter Sisulu and other leaders of the ANC,
were charged with sabotage and faced the death
sentence. Bram Fischer led the defence team and it
is no exaggeration to claim that the seven men
finally convicted, were not sentenced to death
because of the inspired defence led by Fischer.
Fischer did so at great risk to himself. A
number of documents seized at Rivonia were in fact
in Fischer's own handwriting. While not a member of
MK (the military wing of the ANC), Fischer was
acting chairman of the SACP's Central Committee, and
heavily involved with policy making and meetings at
their headquarters at Rivonia.
Immediately after the Rivonia Trial verdict,
Molly Fischer was tragically killed in a motor car
accident. A week later, still shattered and shocked,
Bram Fischer visited the Rivonia Trial prisoners on
Robben Island to discuss the question of an appeal
in their case.
He did not tell them of his wife's
death, as he did not wish to distress them.
A few days later he was arrested, held in
solitary confinement for three days and then
Fischer was arrested in September 1964 and
charged with the crime of membership of the SACP. He
was released on bail to handle a case in London. He
had promised to return to face trial and did so
despite pressure put in him to forego his bail and
go into exile. He returned to South Africa and
attended his trial.
One day, after proceedings began, he did
not arrive at Court and instead sent a letter to his
counsel, Harold Hanson which was read out in court.
"By the time this reaches you I shall be a long
way from Johannesburg and shall absent myself from
the remainder of the trial. But I shall still be in
the country to which I said I would return when I
was granted bail. I wish you to inform the Court
that my absence, though deliberate, is not intended
in any way to be disrespectful. Nor is it prompted
by any fear of the punishment which might be
inflicted on me. Indeed I realise fully that my
eventual punishment may be increased by my present
conduct. My decision was made only because I
believe that it is the duty of every true opponent
of this Government to remain in this country and to
oppose its monstrous policy of apartheid with every
means in his power. That is what I shall do for as
long as I can."
He went underground and in 1965 was struck off
the roll for conduct "unbefitting a member of the
Bar and the Society" in a trial completed in his
Fischer went underground for
almost a year. He was arrested nine months in 1966
on counts of violating the Suppression of Communism
Act and conspiracy to commit sabotage. He was found
guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
During his incarceration Fischer developed cancer
and a fall in 1974 left him partially paralysed and unable to talk. It
was not until December that year that the
authorities transferred him to hospital.
news of his illness was publicised Fischer was
released under house arrest in April 1975. He died a few weeks later
on 8 May 1975.
"Burger's Daughter" by Nadine Gordimer is based on the life of Bram Fischer's
"Bram Fischer: Afrikaner Revolutionary"
by Stephen Clingman won the Alan Paton Award in 1999.
Following a ruling of a full Bench of
the Johannesburg High Court in 2003, Fischer
was the first person to be reinstated
posthumously in terms of the Reinstatement
of Enrolment of Deceased Legal Practitioners