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Remembering a legal battle to the death


Wits University, the Legal Resources Centre and the Nelson Mandela Foundation screened the documentary Life is Wonderful: Mandela’s Unsung Heroes on 7 June 2018 at Wits. It was the first in a series of events in honour of the late Joel Joffe, attorney in the 1963-1964 Rivonia Trial.

Prof Tawana Kupe (standing) and Sir Nicholas Stadlen QC at the screening of

Lord Joffe, as he came to be titled in the UK, was an alumnus of Wits, along with Arthur Chaskalson, George Bizos and Denis Kuny, in the legal team defending Nelson Mandela and his co-accused on charges of sabotage. Also in the defence team were Bram Fischer and Vernon Berrangé.

Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Denis Goldberg, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni were sentenced to life imprisonment. Wits alumnus Bob Hepple – later Sir Bob Hepple QC – was discharged. Lionel “Rusty” Bernstein and James Kantor were acquitted. Arthur Goldreich and Wits alumnus Harold Wolpe escaped from jail.

The documentary film by retired British judge Sir Nicholas Stadlen QC focuses on the legal defence and the less well known stories around the trial, told by the surviving triallists and lawyers. The title refers to Goldberg’s reaction to the sentence of life in prison, rather than death.

In her own personal tribute, Wits Associate Professor and alumna Bonita Meyersfeld has written about why Joffe is “the benchmark for the lawyer – and the human being – I want to be”.

Andrew Mlangeni at the screening of Life is Wonderful, Wits University, 7 June 2018

Advocate George Bizos at the screening of Life is Wonderful, Wits University, 7 June 2018