Yvonne Malan still gets threats more than 13 years after a campaign for a posthumous degree for Bram Fischer. She fled her African home for England after the furore that brought down wrath that has left her looking over her shoulder for more than a decade.
In the early years of this century, Malan was a young researcher at Stellenbosch University, in the Western Cape. She nominated lawyer Fischer for an honorary law degree, saying it was long overdue.
Fischer was the leader of the legal team in the Rivonia Trial that saved Nelson Mandela from the gallows in 1964; he was vilified by his own people and suffered, for years, from cancer, in prison. When he died, not even his ashes were handed to his family. The apartheid authorities also tried to erase him from history; his image was banned until South Africa’s transition to democracy.
“As a kid, I saw an old history book with one of the pre-1994 photos with Fischer’s face whitened out. It was terrible, it really shocked me that you could just erase someone from history like that,” says Malan from London.
Malan is the grandchild of refugees who fled Nazi Germany in fear of their lives. Her family was all too aware of people being erased from history, she says.
Years into democracy, Malan nominated Fischer to the university’s council and honorary degrees committee. The nomination was accepted with mixed feelings. The university granted an honorary doctorate in law in 2004. It was received by his daughter Ilse Fischer.
But later, newspapers came out strongly against the degree, kicking off a campaign to have it revoked, says Malan.
“This was led by senior Naspers members, a regular columnist for the Naspers papers, a few apartheid-era National Party ministers and MPs, and the [alumni body]. Since they all knew there was no mechanism for the university to revoke the degree, they used the Naspers papers and what one Stellenbosch University academic described as ‘Stalinist tactics’ to attack Fischer as a person and myself as the nominator.”
Naspers refused to talk to FORBES AFRICA regarding the allegations.
This led to months of death threats and assaults. Attackers cracked her ribs and pushed her around. It forced her, after 300 days of chaos, to leave for Oxford, in 2005, to study. Thirteen years on, Malan still looks over her shoulder.
“As to why Afrikaners became so angry, many saw, and still see, Fischer as a volksveraaier (traitor to his people). Secondly, Naspers journos and certain Afrikaner historians proclaimed that Fischer wanted a race war/genocide in South Africa. They never cited any proof, and had they bothered to read Fischer’s remarkable statement from the dock, they would have known that he wanted to avoid violence. Still, many Naspers readers bought this lie and it played a big role in the so-called Fischer ‘debate’ spinning out of control. Thirdly, they claimed that, as a Communist, he was responsible for all the evils committed in the name of the ideology. And that Communism was far worse than apartheid,” says Malan.
In 2017, on a windy Wednesday morning, we follow the Fischer story to the Castle Of Good Hope, in Cape Town. FORBES AFRICA visits 84-year-old veteran, and one of South Africa’s struggle heroes, Denis Goldberg, who escaped the death sentence with Mandela through a defence led by Fischer. Goldberg was the prisoner who eased the last painful days of Fischer in jail.
Goldberg made a walking stick for him, which was confiscated because prison authorities thought it could be used as a weapon. Fischer spent his dying days in his prison bed with Goldberg at his side.
“Bram Fischer gets arrested, Bram Fischer defended us, he was often at Lilliesleaf (a farm used as an underground hideout in Johannesburg), and the farm workers at Lilliesleaf knew him. And then it was strange seeing a man arrive in his beautiful car, his beautiful hat, suit, tie, and briefcase – the perfect life – come to the headquarters of uMkhonto we Sizwe with geese at the farm. But Bram, being a country boy, just walked through them,” he recalls.
The Rivonia Trial could have seen Fischer also facing the death penalty. During the trial, the prosecutor presented documents which had Fischer’s fingerprints, along with prints of other members of the Communist Party, and a letter in Fischer’s handwriting.
“The prosecutor said, ‘There is a document here, that if we knew who the author was, he would be on trial with the accused too.’ while looking at Fischer, because they knew it was his writing,” says Goldberg.
“But they didn’t want to arrest him, so Bram played this political game with them to defend us. I believe by his very careful work and careful understanding of his politics, of what we were doing, was able to convince the judge that while we were talking about an armed uprising, we’d not made that decision, and that was a key moment in that trial.”
With the help of Fischer’s argument in court, the judge gave the accused a life sentence for sabotage instead of death.
“My mother calls up to me and asked what it is. I told her its life, life is wonderful,” laughs Goldberg.
In the end, years later, the authorities got Fischer. They charged him for forging a driver’s license and using a false name and sentenced him to life imprisonment.
“In prison he was absolutely strong. As he develops cancer, he becomes very ill. He was very unhappy that the accused could see that he wasn’t well because Fischer didn’t want to burden anyone with his problems,” says Goldberg.
Fischer was worried about everyone but himself, recalls his cell mate.
“He just wouldn’t show, he wouldn’t show pain, he wouldn’t show pain,” he says.
Fischer eventually got treatment, but it was too late.
Today he is remembered with the Bram Fischer International Airport in Bloemfontein and a play by Harry Kalmer called Bram Fischer Waltz. Plus a disputed honorary degree at Stellenbosch.
HUGO BOSS Partners With Porsche To Bring Action-Packed Racing Experience Through Formula E
Brought to you by Hugo Boss
HUGO BOSS and Porsche have partnered to bring an action-packed racing experience to the streets of the world’s major cities through Formula E.
Formula E is known for its fascinating races globally. The partnership will have a strong focus on the future of motorsport. In doing so the races will host a unique series for the development of electric vehicle technology, refining the design, functionality and sustainability of electric cars while creating an exciting global entertainment brand.
HUGO BOSS which boasts a long tradition of motorsports sponsorship – has been successfully engaged in the electric-powered racing series since the end of 2017.
In this collaboration, HUGO BOSS brings its 35 years of experience and expertise in the motorsport arena to Formula E, as well as the dynamic style the fashion brand is renowned for.
Mark Langer HUGO BOSS, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) says that though they have been working successfully with motorsports over the years, he is exceptionally pleased that as a fashion brand they are taking the cooperation to new heights.
“As a fashion brand, we are always looking at innovative approaches to design and sustainability. When we first encountered Formula E, we immediately saw its potential and we are pleased to be the first apparel partner to support this exciting new motorsport series,” he says.
The fashion group is also the official outfitter to the entire Porsche motorsports team worldwide.
The fascination with perfect design and innovation, along with the Porshe and Hugo Boss shared passion for racing, inspired Hugo Boss to produce the Porsche x Boss capsule collection.
Its standout features include premium leather and wool materials presented in the Porsche and HUGO BOSS colors of silver, black and red.
Since March, a range of menswear styles from the debut capsule collection is available online and at selected BOSS stores. In South Africa the first pieces of the capsule will come as a part of the FW 19 collection.
Alejandro Agag, Founder and CEO of Formula E says he is confident that the racers will put their best foot forward on the racecourse.
“This new partnership will see the team on the ground at each race dressed with a winning mindset and ready to deliver a spectacular event in cities across the world. As the first Official Apparel Partner of the series, we look forward to seeing the dynamic style and innovation on show that BOSS is renowned for,” says Agag.
Oliver Blume CEO of Porsche AG says Formula E is an exceptionally attractive racing series for motorsport vehicles to develop.
“It offers us the perfect environment to strategically evolve our vehicles in terms of efficiency and sustainability. We’re looking forward to being on board in the 2019/2020 season. In this context, the renowned fashion group HUGO BOSS represents the perfect partner to outfit our team.”
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