Address by President Nelson Mandela at official opening of the Bram Fischer at the Legal Resources Centre

27 September 1996

National Director of the Legal Resources Centre;
Members of the Fischer family;
Dr Bill Venter;
Distinguished guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is just over a year since I had the privilege of giving the first Bram Fischer Memorial Lecture. That helped initiate an institution through which South Africans can pay fitting homage to a great South African by addressing fundamental issues of law and society. Today we give further recognition to one whose contribution to our nation was bound up with the law, and yet who died a convicted prisoner.

In a letter to the magistrate Bram Fischer explained why he would not stand trial but go underground:

"If by my fight I can encourage even some people to think about, to understand and to abandon the policies they now so blindly follow, I shall not regret any punishment I may incur. I can no longer serve justice in the way I have attempted to do during the past thirty years. I can do it only in the way I have now chosen."

Dit is een van die tragiese ironiee van ons geskiedenis dat soveel volksgenote, wie se lewe aan die reg toegewy was, gedwing is om wetsoortreders en verstotelinge in hul eie land te word. Bram Fischer het die gevolge van hierdie besluit egter sonder huiwering en onverskrokke aanvaar.

Bram is voor 'n nog meer pynlike keuse gestel. Sy lotsbesluit het hom in stryd met sy eie Afrikanervolkssgenote gebring en het tot sy uiteindelike verwerping gelei. Bram het hierdie besluit nie as verraad teen sy eie mense gesien nie - inteendeel, hy het homself as 'n Afrikaner en 'n patriot sonder voorbehoude aan die stryd om die vryheid van alle Suid Afrikaners toegewy.

Danksy die bereiking van demokrasie in ons land word ons mense nie meer voor sulke ingrypende keuses gestel nie. In die proses van die opbou van ons Reenboognasie word hierdie vryheid aan elkeen, insluitende die Afrikaners, om volle lidmaatskap van beide ons kollektiewe gemeenskap en die Suid-Afrikaanse nasie gewaarborg.

Ladies and gentlemen;

Having achieved the freedom for which Bram Fischer gave so much, we can pay tribute to his dedication to both law and justice, without any sense of conflict.

THe law library of Bram's grandfather Abraham Fischer; the books of his father Percy Uhlrig Fischer; and his own books are now housed in the Legal Resources Centre, to which Bram's daughters Ruth and Ilse generously donated his collection of books.

It is in honour of Bram that we are gathered here today - to name this library after him. Those of us who knew him are certain that he would be pleased that his books are now housed here.

For the past seventeen years, the Legal Resources Centre has promoted the cause of human rights in South Africa. It served the disadvantaged people of our country, by challenging the infringement of their human rights.

The series of major test cases against the pass laws did not only benefit vast numbers of people by expanding their freedom of movement, but they also contributed to the repeal of the pass laws.

The Centre's legal representation and assistance to communities resisting forced removal and dispossession helped many communities, and was itself a part of the resistance to a keystone of apartheid.

A major part of its work was representing victims of apartheid's vicious and brutal repression, and helping to expose what was happening in our country.

While the cases undertaken by the LRC have greatly benefited very many of our people, the overall importance of its work has been even greater than the sum of the cases. The Centre helped to keep alive the ideal of justice through the rule of law, a fundamental element of democracy.

With the transformation of the legal and constitutional structure of South Africa, new challenges have arisen. Having made an exceptional contribution to the achievement of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the Centre continues to lend strength to the Rule of Law and help nurture a human rights culture. In doing so it helps to ensure that the ideals inscribed in our Constitution will become real in the lives of all South Africans.

Although our new democratic government was given notice that we could expect LRC scrutiny and challenge, we were in the same breath offered the generous assistance of its lawyers when drafting the new human-rights friendly legislation. This has included work on the law which is now helping to heal our nation through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It also includes work on legislation for the restitution of land taken by forced removals.

The Centre has contributed to the administration of justice by giving up its founding national director, Arthur Chaskalson, to the Constitutional Court. His successor, Geoff Budlender, has been appointed Director-General for Land Affairs. No less than five of the persons recently appointed to the bench have worked and received some of their training at the LRC.

Constitutional rights will be of little value unless bodies like the LRC are prepared to assist in the interpretation of our Constitution, in the protection and enforcement of rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights and in the general education of South African society. Our people need to be confident that they will always be able to find representation against anyone who abuses authority, including functionaries in government.

I am therefore pleased to be associated with the Legal Resources Centre, and with its library that houses Bram Fischer's books as well as documents associated with the Rivonia trial which Joel Joffe safeguarded for so long and presented to me at the first Bram Fischer Lecture.

We are all indebted to Dr. Bill Venter, the executive chairman of the Altron Group of Companies, for refurbishing the library into its present state. Such actions help lessen the Centre's previous dependence on funding from overseas donors. They also strengthen the partnership of South Africans from every sector of society in strengthening the culture of human rights.

It gives me great pleasure to declare the Bram Fischer Library of the Legal Resources Centre open.

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website