Africa

AmaBookaBooka: The Extraordinary Life of Bram Fischer – the Scarlet Pimpernel

By AmaBookaBooka 24 April 2017

This is a special edition of Amabookabooka – it’s from a previous podcast series we produced called Extraordinary Lives. This episode, recorded two years ago, was never released and we’re releasing it now to coincide with the 109th anniversary of the birth of Bram Fischer – the South African prime minister we should have had. By AMABOOKABOOKA.

Bram Fischer was extraordinarily extraordinary. Born on 23 April 1908, he came from a powerful Afrikaner family – his grandfather was Prime Minister of the Orange Free State and his father was judge president. If he had followed the orthodox political route, he might have become prime minister of South Africa. Instead, he fought apartheid and became a communist. To the establishment he was the worst kind of traitor. But to the oppressed – Bram Fischer was a hero.

This episode was recorded at Liliesleaf farm – which is where many of the Rivonia Treason Trialists were arrested in a police raid in 1963. Bram defended the treason trialists. He could easily have been one of them. 

After the Rivonia Trial the apartheid state turned its attention to Bram. For 11 months he lived underground, and became known as the Scarlet Pimpernel. When arrested, he was subjected to months of solitary confinement before being brought to trial.

In May 1966 Bram – a distinguished lawyer – was sentenced to life imprisonment on a charge of sabotage. He did on 8 May 1975.

Championing Bram is Lord Joel Joffe, a human rights lawyer, who moved to the United Kingdom and worked in the financial services industry and in the voluntary sector. Lord Joffe, who pursues a range of charitable activities as chair of the Joffe Charitable Trust, was on the legal team that defended the Rivonia Trialists in 1964 and he talks about Bram, whom he describes as his hero.

Joining in the conversation is Bram’s daughter Ilse Wilson, who reveals a different side to Bram Fischer – Bram, the father, who talked loudly and embarrassed her and her sister, by arriving at school in his khaki “Boer” shorts.

Ilse and Joel talk about Bram’s life and his legacy. DM

Photo: Bram Fischer

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