Stephan Clingman is the author of a book entitled “Bram Fischer Afrikaner Revolutionary” (1998, University of Massachusetts Press). In 1964 Braam Fischer led the defence of Nelson Mandela in the Revonia Trial. In 1966 Fischer was himself sentenced to life imprisonment in South Africa for his political activities against the policies of apartheid.
Braam Fischer was born on 23 April 1908. He became a senior advocate and although he was a distinguished lawyer he abandoned the temptations of power and prestige and became a fighter for human rights and justice for all. He was convicted as a communist, his name was struck from the roll of advocates. During his court trial he addressed the court, beginning at 10h00 in the morning and some five hours later he ended his presentation to court. He pleaded not guilty to 15 charges brought against him and he concluded with the following: The law, my Lord, under which I have been prosecuted, was enacted by a holy unrepresentative body, a body in which three quarters of the people of this country have no voice whatever. This and other laws were enacted not to prevent the spread of communism, but, my Lord, for the purpose of silencing the opposition of the large majority of our citizens. The government intent upon depriving them, solely on account of their colour, of the most elementary human rights.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment on the count of sabotage and twenty-four years on the charges under the Communism Act and to some minor charges he was sentences as well. It didn’t make a difference as in South Africa life meant life.
Today we know that Braam Fischer has been re-instated posthumously as advocate. But since his death in 1975 there never was a person who really, in the sense of being an Afrikaans person, stood out for the demise of apartheid. Yet there is one unforgotten hero according to the journalist Martin Welz who is also the editor of Noseweek. In an article published in Men’s Health of November 2003 at page 248 he says as follows: “Adam Klein, in his early twenties at the time, was single handedly responsible for finally sinking the past laws and the pseudo courts that applied them. He gave me the story to publish in the Sunday Times. After that, the security branch agents destroyed his legal career and life.”
The Sunday Times of 23 November 1980 had an article written by Martin Welz with the heading “Clean-up at pass courts launched”. It said the following: “The Department of co-operation and development has embarked on a dramatic clean-up operation in a Commissioners Court which enforces the past laws. The result from the walk out by Pretoria Commissioner’s Court prosecutor Mr Adam Klein earlier this year and after Sunday Times investigation at the court.”
Mr Klein’s report on irregularities at the Pretoria’s Commissioners Court to be delivered this week to the Transvaal Attorney General is expected to reopen the controversy about the administration of the past laws and its impact on blacks.
In this report Mr Klein will allege along with other dramatic disclosures that more than half of the cases concerning the failure by blacks to produce a pass when asked to do so by an authorised officer where incorrectly charged or convicted in the Pretoria Court.”
“Failure to produce a pass is the most common past offence.”
“On average each person charged with the offence whether found guilty or not spends six days in detention before a trial is completed.”
“As a result black people in Pretoria spent more than 35 000 days in detention last year.”
“This week Mr J H T Mills director general of Corporation and development told Sunday Times political correspondent E Wilkens that a conference of all Magistrates in the Commissioners Court will take place early in the new year.”
In the Sunday Express of 12 October 1980 an article appeared with the heading Adam Klein pays price of rebellion. The article was written by Christina Pretorius and she started by saying a prosecutors life is in taters after his apartheid protest against more than 300 of South Africa’s cruellest laws. Since he chant a Pretoria Court two months ago by refusing to proceed with the prosecution of five black men charged under the past regulations, he received death threats from Right Wing Commando Members and he was arrested on charges of theft of court records. He also had his passport removed and appeared in court and bail was given to him. He had to resign as prosecutor.
In the Rapport of 14 June 1981 an article as published by Pieter Schoembie who wrote the following which was translated by myself: “Prosecutor testifies of irregularities.” Death message, pass and son in court…..”
The article mentioned that a young boy came to Pretoria to look for his elder brother to give him the message that his had mother passed away. He was confronted by the police in town and he learned that the letter from his school principal could not help him. He had to go to court. That was his first appearance in court. This is only one of the cases that Adam Klein could not forget. Adam Klein appeared before the Hoekster Commission, the Hoekster Commission was investigating the Courts of South Africa. He compiled a report in which he mentioned many irregularities. The Commissioner in who’s court Adam Klein prosecuted, who had an equal rank to a Magistrate, denied any irregularities. The Commissioner said that past law offences are serious and it is the basis of the social welfare of South Africa.
Adam Klein lodged a report in excess of 60 pages. One example of inhumanity is that as an elderly man who had to be deported from Pretoria to the Eastern Transvaal. Adam Klein refused to do it as the man was very sick and he could not travel. His plea fell on deaf ears and Adam Klein recalled that his office received a phone call from Watervalboven saying that the man had passed away en route to Nelspruit.
Another example is that of a man from Soweto who studied in Swaziland and the police said that he was now a citizen of Swaziland and therefore an alien! Many months later he was released.
Adam Klein was arrested and the security police of those days kept a close surveillance of him. I myself was present the day when he was arrested in his flat in Pretoria and I still had to peruse the warrant of arrest as well as the search warrant. I stood there watching my brother being handcuffed and the police searching his whole flat for any evidence that he might be a terrorist or communist. They could find nothing except for two books that he had which was written by Breyten Breytenbach. Later on when these books were returned it had a note on it that he could have been a communist like Breyten Breytenbach. We all know today that this was far from the factual situation pertaining to Breyten Breytenbach. However, shortly after his arrest and shortly after all charges were withdrawn against him, he still noticed how the security police where following him wherever he went.
He started to do his articles as an attorney but wasn’t successful as the attorneys who gave him the jobs were scared whenever his cases were mentioned. He then fled to the then South West Africa which is today Namibia. He practised there for a few years and then returned to South Africa.
Today Adam Klein is a practising advocate in Mpumalanga and a member of the Independent Association of Advocates of South Africa (IAASA). The independent bar made Adam Klein a life-long honory member of the association.
Mattthew Klein, practising advocate, Pretoria.
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