I am delighted that UNC School of Law has chosen my book, Saving Nelson Mandela, as the selection for this years Admitted Students Book Club. I intended for the book to be a story about people who fought against the tyranny of a brutal government and a racist system. Some of those were activists who were in the front lines. Others were lawyers who gave the best that they had, both to save the lives of their clients and to help them promote the cause in which both lawyers and clients believed.
In 1963, when Nelson Mandela and nine others were charged with the crime of sabotage under a recently enacted South African statute, most people in that nation and around the world expected that the defendants would be hanged. The defendant had, most certainly, committed acts that would constitute a violation of the statute. The statute clearly provided for the death penalty as an option for the trial judge.
Something happened during the course of the trial that changed the outcome from death to life imprisonment. All of the eight defendants convicted served intolerably long sentences, ranging from 22 to 27 years. Yet, all survived their prison ordeal to emerge as leaders of a new, democratic South Africa. In particular, Nelson Mandela lived to provide leadership to a nation in the negotiations that led to a largely peaceful transition to democracy. As the world knows, he became South Africa’s first democratically elected president and a symbol of freedom and perseverance for the world. Without his leadership, death and destruction were likely to have reigned in all of Southern Africa.
The defense team, led by Bram Fischer, was composed of the best of the South African bar. They were the best not only in terms of their courtroom abilities, but also their work ethic and dedication to the cause of justice. As you read the book, think about the passion and effort that the lawyers gave to the case. Consider also the careful strategy planned by the lawyers from the beginning of the case. Ask yourselves what tactics and strategies the lawyers decided upon and which ones were the most effective. How much difference did the advocacy of the lawyers make in the final outcome of the case?
Bram Fischer was an Afrikaner whose heritage went back to the roots of the Boer republics who fought against the British in the late nineteenth century. His relatives and the people with whom they identified were the architects and proponents of apartheid. What made him so radically different from many of his compatriots?
Note also the care with which the lawyers treated the Afrikaner trial judge. The judge was the sole decision maker in the case. Did he ever really come around to see the defendant’s plight or did he come around enough simply to save their lives? How much do you think he was influenced by factors outside the courtroom?
Also think about other instances in which lawyers of skill, courage and devotion to the law have made a difference not only for their clients, but for the world.
I hope these observations and questions help generate some thoughts of your own. If so, please share them in the comments below and/or via Twitter (#unclawbookclub) and Facebook. I look forward to engaging in further conversation with you.
Posted by Kenneth S. Broun (Ken) on Fri. June 27, 2014 10:00 AM