Joel Joffe
The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation has sent condolences to the family of anti-apartheid lawyer Lord Joel Joffe.

Joffe died in London on Sunday at the age of 85.

The South African-born human rights lawyer played a crucial role in the defence team when Nelson Mandela and his comrades were tried for sabotage in the Rivonia Trial between 1963 and 1964.

The foundation’s Neeshan Balton said last night: “Joffe is among a class of defence attorneys who served South Africa and our liberation Struggle with distinction.

He left the country soon after the trial and settled in England, where 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.

Joffe was the defence attorney of two Robben Islanders who have served on the foundation’s board, Kathrada and Laloo Chiba.

Kathrada took Joffe and his wife Venetta on a Robben Island tour in 1995, one that left Joffe with a renewed sense “of how fortunate South Africa was to have leaders on Robben Island with such courage, integrity, vision and solidarity”.

Balton said: “It took a great deal of bravery and conviction to defend anti-apartheid activists in the 1960s, at a time when Mandela, Sisulu, Kathrada and others were regarded as terrorists by the state. Lawyers such as Joffe, Arthur Chaskalson, Bram Fischer, George Bizos, Vernon Barrange, and others, made an immense contribution.”

Balton said Kathrada, in his memoirs, referred to Joffe’s assessment of the Rivonia Trial, noting that Joffe was inspired by Sisulu’s composure in the witness box as he was grilled by State prosecutor Percy Yutar.

“We must remember that it was because of lawyers like Joffe that these leaders were spared the death sentence, and would subsequently shape democratic South Africa,” said Balton.