It is with great sadness that the Nelson Mandela Foundation has learned of the passing of Lord Joel Joffe in London. Our condolences go out to his family and friends, his comrades and all the many people he helped in his life as an attorney.
The South African-born human rights lawyer was a crucial part of the defence team when Nelson Mandela and his comrades were on trial for sabotage in what became known as the Rivonia Trial of 1963/64. Led by Bram Fischer, the team included Vernon Berrange, George Bizos, Arthur Chaskalson and Joel Joffe. At the end of the trial Mandela and seven others were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Joffe 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.
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 George Bizos.
In an interview to mark the event he said the trial “was perhaps my most important and most invaluable I have ever done”.
“What stayed with me,” he told the Swindon Advertiser, “was a better understanding that all people are equal irrespective of colour, and that there was no case better striving for than human rights.”
In the foreword to Joffe’s book, The State vs. Nelson Mandela: The Trial that Changed South Africa, published in 2007, Mandela wrote: “A remarkable piece of contemporary historical writing that will serve as one of the most reliable sources for understanding what happened at that trial and how we came to live and see democracy triumph in South Africa.”
Hamba kahle, Lord Joffe. May you rest in peace.