Lord Joel Joffe, who passed away in London earlier this week at the age of 85, was a leading human rights lawyer. He was best known for the prominent role he played during the famous Rivonia Trial of 1963-4 as the legal defense team’s attorney. Amongst the leading anti-apartheid activists that he represented in the trial were Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Kathrada. After the trial, Joffe settled in the UK, where he gained further renown for his human rights and philanthropic work. For this, he was made a peer of the Labour Party in the House of Lords and was awarded a CBE by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000. In January 2016 Lord Joffe was awarded the Freedom of the City of London alongside the last three remaining Rivonia Trial accused, Ahmed Kathrada, Denis Goldberg and Andrew Mlangeni and fellow defense team member Advocate George Bizos.
Of Joffe and his role in the trial, the legendary anti-apartheid activist and former Rivonia Trialist Lionel Bernstein wrote:
“He is the mildest and least aggressive of men who combines a fierce sense of right and justice with great empathy. He becomes the lynch-pin of our whole defense, and something much more than a lawyer for us all. He is not only the organizer of our legal affairs but also makes himself the guardian of our families’ personal and financial troubles. In the course of the trial he extends his responsibilities to the legal and personal troubles of many other victims of many other victims of the police state and their
Joel Joffe was one of a number of distinguished human rights lawyers, whose ranks include Isie Maisels, Arthur Chaskalson, Sidney Kentridge and Jules Browde, to have emerged from the South African Jewish community during the apartheid years. The SAJBD salutes him for everything that he accomplished, both in the land of his birth and in the country where he later made his home, in making our world a better, in making our world a kinder and more just place.