Many of us grew up in the day of Nationalist politics and viewed the so-called Freedom Fighters with skepatsicm. I believe it always depends on what side of the fence you sit, as someone’s Terrorist is someone else’s Freedom Fighter and Visa versa. I came across a book on Bram Fischer and out of curiosity I read it. Must say pretty interesting, here is what I learnt about the man, many love but many love to hate.
Born Abraham Fischer on 23 April 1908 on his parent’s farm in the Orange Free State, which in those days was a Republic. His family were a prominent and well-respected Afrikaans family, his Grandfather was President of the Free State Republic, and his father was a well-respected judge and law lecturer.
Abram was the eldest of four sons and 1 daughter, he spent his childhood on the farm, playing and hunting with the farm labourer’s children. He was lucky that his parents took him to interesting places and he was encouraged to talk about topics that interested him. Even when his family were away they would write letters telling the children about the interesting places they had been and the people that they had met.
Abram went to Grey College in Bloemfontein and was an exceptional student as well as a good sportsman and became the Free State junior tennis champion. In 1926 he then enrolled at the university of Cape Town to study law. On his 21st birthday Mrs Steyn (widow of president Martinhus Steyn sent him a letter. The Steyns and Fischers were family friends and Ouma Steyn as she was known to family and friends liked Abram very much and predicted that one day he would play an important part in South Africa’s history. She was right, but it would not be in the way she expected.
While studying Abram would earn pocket money at harvest time by picking apples, here he saw the exploitation of coloured children, it was also during this period that he taught black adults to read and write. In 1931 after obtaining his degree he won a scholarship to Oxford in England to further his studies, during this period of hi life he travelled to Austria and Russia and he compared Austria’s capitalist system to Russia’s communistic outlook, he then compared them both to South Africa where only the whites had power and began to believe that a government based on race alone was not right.
In 1934 he returned to South Africa and worked as a lawyer in Johannesburg, in 1937 he married Molly Krige and they had three children, Ruth, Ilse and Paul. In 1941 both Molly and Bram joined the CPSA (Communist party of South Africa) it attracted members from all races and religions and fought for a country in which all people would be equal. During the miners strike o 1946 Bram and a number of his comrades were arrested and fined for supporting the strike.
In 1948 the National party under the leadership of DF Malan came to power and brought in segregation laws that were to become known as Apartheid and to ensure that the races did not mingle laws such as the Population registration act, the Group areas act, the Separate amenities act and the Influx control act were passed. In 1950 the CPSA was banned and its member had to either flee the country or work underground, members of the CPSA could now be jailed for up to ten years. The CSAP disbanded to avoid members being imprisoned, but secretly reformed as the SACP (South African Communist Party) Bram and his comrades now had to work in secret. Bram also became friends with members of the ANC (African National Congress) and decided that he wanted to work with them to end Apartheid. In 1953 the ANC called upon white South Africans to work with them to fight for freedom, Bram and other whites formed SACOD (South African Congress of Democrats). That same year the government put Bram on the banned list, this meant he could no longer belong to SACOD or attend political meetings, but he met his comrades in secret, even with members of the Special Branch following him.
In June 1955 thousands of people mat in Kliptown (near Johannesburg) for the congress of the people, at this meeting the ANC ant its alliance partners came up with the Freedom charter, while Bram could not be there because he was banned, he watched proceedings from a nearby hill with his family. In 1956 156 members of the congress alliance were arrested and charged with treason for planning to overthrow the government and if found guilty would be sentenced to death.
Bram became a member of the defence team and both Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu were happy to have him defending them. The trail lasted 4 years (1957 – 1961) all 156 were granted bail but many lost their jobs and Bram started a fund to raise money for the accused and their families. After the 156 were found not guilty, happy crowds of supporters carried Bram shoulder high from the court for his hard work in defending his comrades.
The ANC in 1961 decided to stray from their non-violent doctrine and learnt how to make bombs and formed MK (Umkhonto we Sizwe), Zulu for “Spear of the Nation” In December 1961 MK blew up railway lines and electricity pylons. For months the police hunted for the bombers, Mandela was arrested at a roadblock in Howick and in July 1963 Lilieslief farm in Rivonia was raided and here Sisulu and Mbeki as well as many others were arrested.
The now famous Rivonia trial began in Pretoria in October 1963 with many ANC members being charged with using violence and trying to overthrow the government. Bram was chosen to lead the defence team and worked night and day to fight the case in court, but despite his best efforts on 12 June 1964 all of the men on trial were sentenced to life in prison. A day after the verdict his wife Molly was killed in a car accident while driving down to Cape Town. In September he was arrested and charged with bombing government property. Bram sent a letter to the court saying he would not stand trial but rather go into hiding to continue his fight for the freedom of all South Africans. Now he was on the run and he disguised himself by dyeing his hair and growing a beard. He called himself Max Black.
The Police put on a manhunt for him and offered a large reward for information that would lead to his arrest, he was eventually caught in November 1965 and sentenced to life in prison on 9 may 1966. In 1974 he was taken to hospital to be treated for cancer and his family pleaded with the government to release him because of this illness, initially ignoring there pleas in March 1975 he was allowed to go and stay with his brother, Paul, officially he was still a prisoner, however a mere two months later on 8 may he died.