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Mandela’s Rivonia Trial lawyer @100 years



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Treason Trial and Biko inquest advocate, a hero: Sydney Kentridge turns 100

 Sir Sydney Kentridge KC SC.

By Jan-Jan Joubert

04 Nov 2022

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Sydney Woolf Kentridge, who never flinched from taking on the state at its venal worst, is widely held to be the greatest advocate and barrister of his age.

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The man who represented Nelson Mandela and others at the Treason Trial (1956-61), Bram Fischer (1965), the Biko family at the inquest into Stephen Bantu Biko’s death (1977) and the families of those killed at Sharpeville in the 1960 inquest into that massacre, will be celebrating quietly at his home in Britain with select friends and family today.


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Kentridge was born in Johannesburg on 5 November 1922, to Morris and May Kentridge. Morris was a lawyer and politician who represented first the Labour Party and then the United Party in South Africa’s Parliament. By the time Morris stood down as a member of Parliament in 1958, he was the longest-serving member of the House of Assembly. He died in 1964.

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His son, Sydney Kentridge, matriculated at the age of 16 from King Edward VII High School in Johannesburg and went to study at the University of the Witwatersrand, where, as a member of the student representative council, he voted against the segregation of students in 1941. In 1942, he volunteered to fight against fascism in World War 2. He served in East Africa and North Africa before taking part in the liberation of Italy.

After the war, Kentridge studied law at Oxford and returned with a degree in jurisprudence, to be admitted to the Johannesburg Bar in 1949. There, he built a varied and successful practice in, among other aspects, commercial law but, perhaps because he came from an intensely political left-wing home, he also took up human rights cases, which at the time was tough, unpopular, grim and a far cry from the glamour attached to many such cases today.

He initially took several cases representing the trade unions and trade unionists, on occasion chalking up big wins against the National Party government, such as the case where he successfully asserted to the Appellate Division in Bloemfontein that the government could not unilaterally suspend trade unionist Solly Sachs’s passport.

Kentridge really shot to prominence during the Treason Trial, where he was part of a team of lawyers under the leadership of Isie Maisels, QC, appearing for the 156 accused. Each member of the team was assigned certain of the accused to lead in the witness box. The young Mandela was assigned to Kentridge, who gave the former a daily lift to the trial in Pretoria in his car. During these drives they would discuss the trial, Mandela’s evidence in it and wider matters of the world. Mandela and all other trialists were eventually acquitted.

At the inquest into the Sharpeville massacre of 21 March 1960, Kentridge did the lion’s share of the work which proved most of the protesters were shot by police 100 yards and more away from the Sharpeville police station, and were shot in the back because they were running away. A total of 69 protesters died that day.

In 1965, Bram Fischer was disbarred by the Johannesburg Bar for skipping bail and absconding while being an accused in a case involving the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950, which made it an offence to be a communist in South Africa. At the disbarment hearings, Kentridge appeared for Fischer with Arthur Chaskalson (later to become Chief Justice) as his junior. Fischer was disbarred, although the decision was reversed posthumously in 2003.

Biko inquest and worldwide recognition

In 1977, it was Sydney Kentridge who appeared on behalf of the Biko family at the inquest into Steve Biko’s death. Through incisive cross-examination, he got to the bottom of what happened, cutting through the lies and deceit of the security police and the medical professionals who aided them. Although the magistrate did not find anyone guilty, the case caught the attention of the world and added impetus in the international isolation of apartheid South Africa.

It also made Sydney Kentridge, then in his early fifties, a household name worldwide. Kentridge, who had represented luminaries such as Inkosi Albert Luthuli, Winnie Mandela and Gonville ffrench-Beytagh, Anglican dean of Johannesburg, in court, was beginning to consider practising law in England rather than in South Africa, where he did not wish to become a judge administering apartheid law, and where he felt frustrated to have to appear as an advocate before judges whom he experienced to be below par.

In 1977 he was admitted to the Bar in London. For the next decade he shuttled between London and South Africa, keeping up two practices and homes in Johannesburg and London. Over time, he gravitated more to his British work and spent more and more time in London. He became the foremost barrister (the British term for advocate) in that city and the most highly respected in the Commonwealth.

After the establishment of the South African Constitutional Court in 1995, Kentridge agreed to serve it as an acting judge, contributing to many of its early landmark findings, including the non-constitutionality of the death penalty.

He continued to practice law at the highest level in London, where he became a QC (currently KC) in 1984. On his 90th birthday he argued – and won – a substantial tax case before the Supreme Court. He retired at the apex of his profession.

Sydney Kentridge was married to Felicia Kentridge for 53 years. She was an excellent advocate who practised at the Johannesburg Bar and – together with Chaskalson – set up the Legal Resources Centre. She died in 2015. They had four children, including the artist William Kentridge. Sydney holds honorary doctorates from the universities of Leicester, London and Sussex, Cape Town, KwaZulu-Natal and the Witwatersrand, as well as Seton Hall in the US.

This year an already widely acclaimed book, The Mandela Brief, by Thomas Grant, QC, has been published on the most prominent South African trials Sydney Kentridge was involved in. At the London launch, Kentridge himself attended, to be feted by many of the brightest and best of the British legal firmament. At the launch of the book at Stellenbosch University last month, former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, Judge Johann Kriegler, Professor Thuli Madonsela, Grant and advocates Jeremy Gauntlett SC, QC, and Geoff Budlender, SC, gathered before a large audience to pay tribute to Kentridge.

Answering a question from the audience, it was Moseneke who made a clarion call for renewed legal activism in the face of State Capture, poor governance and its impact on the vulnerable – an apt instruction in celebration of Sydney Kentridge, a South African legal centurion who never flinched from taking on the state at its venal worst. DM/ ML/ MC

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[1/31, 8:42 AM] Mosaics Marufu: Save if I may ask what was the relationship between smm mm and gvt.

[1/31, 8:43 AM] mdmawere1: What do you think or have heard so that I may know from you?

[1/31, 8:45 AM] Mosaics Marufu: Ok thanks my understanding is you had shares as well as gvt. But it’s unfortunate couldn’t follow after the mines closed.

[1/31, 8:46 AM] mdmawere1: Shares in which company or companies.

[1/31, 8:47 AM] mdmawere1: It turns out that Adv is offline and not recheable anyway.

[1/31, 10:57 AM] Mosaics Marufu: Lucky them

[1/31, 10:58 AM] mdmawere1: How so?

[1/31, 10:59 AM] mdmawere1: Is it a consequence of luck or effort as well?

[1/31, 11:02 AM] Mosaics Marufu: You might have the effort(guts) but it’s also 10% luck.

[1/31, 11:02 AM] mdmawere1: Did you see what happened when I asked Mucha to name a beneficiary cause, what his response was.

[1/31, 11:22 AM] Mosaics Marufu: Trying to locate chat can you please tag it

[1/31, 11:29 AM] mdmawere1: [1/25, 7:38 PM] Mucha Mugota: Wow! Just wow! 

You are on to something mukoma.

[1/25, 7:40 PM] mdmawere1: Is it ok?

[1/25, 7:41 PM] mdmawere1: You are the brains behind. You will receive 5% of the proceeds towards a charity of your choice.

[1/25, 7:49 PM] Mucha Mugota: Its great mukoma.

[1/25, 7:51 PM] Mucha Mugota: Will ask it be donated to Capota School for the Blind in Masvingo. Its a worthy cause close to my heart.

[1/25, 7:57 PM] mdmawere1: Now it is your turn to show up for this noble cause.

[1/25, 7:58 PM] mdmawere1: You are the GENERAL and I will be there to support the cause.

[1/25, 7:58 PM] Mucha Mugota: Kikikikiki. 

I will do my best mukoma.

[1/31, 11:30 AM] Mosaics Marufu: Yes I read this one

[1/31, 11:33 AM] Mosaics Marufu: Yes like me he was really exited. I also appreciate this gesture as I work with visually impaired too

[1/31, 11:33 AM] mdmawere1: Do you agree that he was the author of the idea of the memoir?

[1/31, 11:35 AM] Mosaics Marufu: Trying to connect all conversation but because of power cuts sometimes loose out but am following

[1/31, 11:36 AM] mdmawere1: Do you agree that he was the author?

[1/31, 11:40 AM] Mosaics Marufu: Yes I read so

[1/31, 11:43 AM] mdmawere1: Is there anyone who stopped a person like Luke and you from proposing a similar arrangement?

[1/31, 11:48 AM] Mosaics Marufu: Not at all but maybe our approach was not of your expecting.

[1/31, 11:49 AM] Mosaics Marufu: Expectation

[1/31, 11:50 AM] Mosaics Marufu: BOAF is an eye opener

[1/31, 11:51 AM] mdmawere1: Do you agree that there would be no benefit to me at all since your lives hitherto like that of Mucha are unknown to me?


[1/31, 11:54 AM] Mosaics Marufu: Yes but your benevolence will be talked of by benefiaries your profile as well

[1/31, 11:54 AM] Mosaics Marufu: Yes I know

[1/31, 11:55 AM] mdmawere1: Do you agree that graveyards have no ATM machines to deposit or withdraw funds?

[1/31, 11:55 AM] Mosaics Marufu: Too far fetched kkkk

[1/31, 11:56 AM] mdmawere1: What benefit would this be to me?

[1/31, 11:56 AM] Mosaics Marufu: Expagorate on this

[1/31, 11:58 AM] mdmawere1: You have asserted this: “Yes but your benevolence will be talked of by benefiaries your profile as well,” and I battling to understand why you import my profile into the equation.

[1/31, 12:04 PM] Mosaics Marufu: You asked how you would benefit

[1/31, 12:08 PM] mdmawere1: Do you call being remembered as a BENEFIT for any living person?

[1/31, 12:13 PM] Mosaics Marufu: Not to living being but the legacy of you lives on. Jairos Jiri is a living dead.

[1/31, 12:15 PM] mdmawere1: Tell me this first time narrative that Jairos Jiri is benefiting from being talked about? I thought only Jesus was the gift by the creator to mankind who was not meant to have any aspirations because the pathway to the destination was predetermined.

[1/31, 12:24 PM] Mosaics Marufu: OK LU Q%

[1/31, 12:24 PM] Mosaics Marufu: 2

[1/31, 12:29 PM] mdmawere1: Do you think being correctly remembered constitutes a benefit for a living person?

[1/31, 12:38 PM] Mosaics Marufu: I want to believe that MM Besides a legacy what would a living perish besides living beyond. The momoir we are discussing is no different

[1/31, 12:39 PM] mdmawere1: Do you agree that life exists to be lived?

[1/31, 12:40 PM] Mosaics Marufu: But can live on eternally through deeds

[1/31, 12:43 PM] mdmawere1: [1/31, 12:39 PM] Leslie Mangunda: This really needs some time for me to understand what exactly happened.

If you have a write up that I can go through, that would be welcome.

[1/31, 12:42 PM] mdmawere1: Thanks. Do you want to give me job to write for you? Imagine I was to do this for all people I know and who want to abuse my time to get ahead, would this be the purpose of life. It is just to show that being in my unfortunate place, the people who need direction and problem solving, they are the very people who do not want to give up anything to get what they want but would be foolish enough to expect me to have 24+1 hours in a day to serve their selfish ends. This kind of behavior must stop yesterday.

[1/31, 12:45 PM] mdmawere1: You are still skirting the issue. Please talk to me as if we are all humans of flesh. Your group needs resources now than when they are dead. Why I anyone bother then?

[1/31, 12:50 PM] Mosaics Marufu: This needs proper reasoning I don’t want to just reply for sake of it

[1/31, 12:51 PM] Mosaics Marufu: Come again on last part

[1/31, 12:55 PM] mdmawere1: I am saying if life was created simply to deliver after death legacy, then who would want to live it.

[1/31, 2:02 PM] Mosaics Marufu: Shakespear once said the good things that men do(whilst alive) lives(legacy-memoir) after them.

[1/31, 2:10 PM] Mosaics Marufu: Shakespear once said the good things that men do(whilst alive) lives(legacy-memoir) after them.

[1/31, 2:48 PM] Mosaics Marufu: Very very correct , a autobiography is controlled by the person in question unlike an arbitrary

[1/31, 2:49 PM] mdmawere1: Would you rather buy an autobiography or a literacy library?

[1/31, 2:51 PM] Mosaics Marufu: Autobiography is better

[1/31, 2:55 PM] mdmawere1: Who would be the target? Who should cover the cost and time?

[1/31, 4:33 PM] mdmawere1: [1/31, 4:02 PM] mdmawere1: Hello

[1/31, 4:07 PM] Shayne Kundai: Maswera sei

[1/31, 4:07 PM] mdmawere1: Fine. Are you following?

[1/31, 4:07 PM] Shayne Kundai: Not yet but soon

[1/31, 4:09 PM] Shayne Kundai: Can you link us🙏🏻🙏🏻

[1/31, 4:22 PM] mdmawere1: You want me to be a pimp or to work as a circle.

[1/31, 4:26 PM] Shayne Kundai: Work as a circle

[1/31, 4:32 PM] mdmawere1: Indeed. Read Shau’s take and my response to it. 

Then kindly comment on both and I can share with her to assist in aligning ideas and actions.

[02/01, 07:05] Mutumwa Mawere: [2/1, 6:13 AM] Joshua Ziyambi: Yeah i am , should anyone of them ask where i got their contact what can i say?

[2/1, 6:19 AM] mdmawere1: You are a member of a group that exists to fulfill the obligations of s2 of the constitution to build an open, accountable, responsive and responsible governance architecture and the initiative you are part of under BOAF – JUSTICE UNDER THE RULE OF LAW IS MEANT TO ACHIEVE THIS.


[2/1, 6:32 AM] Joshua Ziyambi: Good, yes i read the conversation between Hopewell and Mpasiri

[2/1, 6:33 AM] mdmawere1: How did Tinashe introduce himself? Please share

[2/1, 6:35 AM] Joshua Ziyambi: Let me go through it once again

[2/1, 6:48 AM] Joshua Ziyambi: By the way Prof Mupasiri and Hopewell’s conversation is it in pdf form

[2/1, 6:49 AM] mdmawere1: What does one learn from this response?



BY WRITING YOUR OWN RECORD OF EXCHANGES WITH ME, YOU WOULD HAVE GIVEN LIFE TO THE CALL TO ACTION TO DEMOCRATIZE THE MISSING DOT – THE ABSENCE OF JOURNALISM EXCELLENCE that would create the reality and absurdity of some journalists winning unmerited awards simply by inventing and augmenting reality using the profession as a weapon of choice and convenience.

If charlatans can win awards as journalism, why can’t you play your part in constructively shaping and defining the kind of Africa you want to be part of by choosing to act so that the public, as custodians of the rule of law, can be informed, educated and entertained as an end and not a bridge for some ego boosting enterprise that undermines the profession and in so doing put the entire profession into disrepute.

By you choosing to act, you will have given life to the project to build an open, democratic, accountable, responsible and responsive governance system in Africa.

Future generations will not be denied the opportunity to know what has been shared to you and unlike Mr. Mucha Mugore who after writing a dissertation on SMM-related matters has refused and failed to disclose the paper that he wrote to obtain a degree yet the content could be important to provoke vigilance necessary to protect the constitution from crooked and shameless public office bearers.

Play your part for others to know and act in the interests of protecting the voiceless constitution.

[02/01, 08:05] Mutumwa Mawere: [2/1, 7:52 AM] Sovereign Heru: Whom is he with?

[2/1, 7:53 AM] mdmawere1: Manikai and former Senator Flake

[2/1, 7:56 AM] Sovereign Heru: When is this?

[2/1, 7:58 AM] mdmawere1: US EMBASSY IN HARARE BUT I WASN’T THERE. This is from the public domain.

[2/1, 7:59 AM] mdmawere1: Have you read the Mpasiri v Chin’ono thread?

[2/1, 8:00 AM] Sovereign Heru: I’m reading it.

[2/1, 8:00 AM] mdmawere1: Ok

[02/01, 08:26] Mutumwa Mawere: [2/1, 8:12 AM] Joshua Ziyambi: I think it can be helpful to share again Hopewell and Mupasiri conversation for the sake of those who might not have seen it

[2/1, 8:19 AM] mdmawere1: Are you asking or answering? If you asking, why when the chats are now your property and you can add your comments for heritage purposes and explain in detail how you got the chats as per our chat before.

[2/1, 8:22 AM] Joshua Ziyambi: I am suggesting to share it again because i previously shared it

[2/1, 8:25 AM] mdmawere1: Suggesting to whom? Why not act as a sovereign human being unless you want to perpetuate the idea of surrogacy peddled by Hopewell. Share what you have without asking another human being what you should do next. You use your legs to take you to a point B and do you ask anyone to give you legs. If not, why now?

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Shau Mudekunye (Photo credit: Facebook)

[1/30, 3:24 PM] Shau Mudekunye: Hi babamnini, where is this thread by Colleta? I would like to read it so I have context. 

The snippets that I read when I can call me to think that I should also one day sit with you and hear exactly what happened to all the businesses. In my 37 years I have always thought of these topics as ‘hands-off’, not for nothing more than I took a stance to leave it alone, semwana wenyu. Which, in hindsight is contrary to my own nature as Shau. Because knowing the truth always gives me better understanding for my stances. It’s most interesting to me that I read about it, and have heard many opinions, but have never sought understanding from you directly, even though I have direct access. I would also like to hear your story as told by you… Not by opinion pieces or the news or in rooms where people talk freely without knowledge that I am your relative.

Speaking from a point of lack of understanding, is a dangerous thing, and an unfortunate reality of our social media driven world. I say this even as a social media practitioner myself. I will also say that I myself should seek the understanding from the knowledge you hold.

[1/31, 12:19 PM] mdmawere1: Hello

[1/31, 12:29 PM] mdmawere1: Thanks for this perspective. Imagine I had to tell the story to you and thereafter to all who would say that I only choose to tell the truth to relatives. I am sure you aware that a public law exists and was used in relation to the affairs of SMM Holdings Private Limited (SMM). This happened in September 2004 when an extrajudicial order was issued and prosecuted against SMM under the guise of reconstruction. It is now 19 years later but the reality is that absent the use of public power, which power when properly construed constitutes public trust and consequently PUBLIC PROPERTY, that must be subjected to public scrutiny and citizen vigilance. In the premises, Mr. Mr. Mucha Mugore, proposed that I write a memoir using God’s time and my memory to write this. It is this proposal that sparked the chat with Colleta and her sentiments that as a niece I must practice some tribalism or nepotism for her benefit without understanding the time is the currency of life and must, therefore, be used to solve problems of the present. I proposed that we use a prepayment approach whereby people who think it is a good idea, pay R150 per copy and the funds will then be used to pay the service providers to make it happen. He obviously refused, failed and neglected to give up R150 or $8 to lead the campaign to interrogate the facts as they exist lest she would be identified and labelled my surrogate if I took your advice of privatizing the story.

[01/31, 14:23] Mutumwa Mawere: [1/31, 1:27 PM] Shau Mudekunye: Hi Uncle Mutumwa! I tried to read everything yesterday but have still not managed to go through it all. To respond to this latest message, I think the idea of pre-funding a book is a great idea, especially for those who would want to read it. A cheaper idea may be to capture it all on camera and distribute it through a subscription service. I am not at all suggesting that you tell only me, on the contrary, I would love for you to control your own narrative – I believe that is our basic right, to tell our own stories. It is dangerous to have your story told by someone else – or a hoard of other people who only come at it from their own understanding and perspective, and perhaps even with their own motives. We all need to be part and parcel of telling our own events.

I don’t think it is really about nepotism, but more to say if we, your nieces, cannot tell the version of events from our own uncle, we may have lost the plot a little bit. I say this because I still believe that your family can be your first ally, but also your most ardent supporter (not that we need to enlist blindly, but as a good to have).As you have seen in the last few weeks with Kudzai and Themba. His dragging my brother’s name through the mud has made me even more vigilant with taking the matter of care of my own family to heart. It is also what likely spurred my own confession to you that much as we are family, I have yet to hear this story from the horse’s mouth. Not so I can defend or judge, but so that I can be a better ally and supporter to my family because I can come from a place of understanding. Understanding is key, and lack of understanding leads to endless disputes. 

Uncle, I can write, I can film, I can produce, I can figure out subscription platforms for you to tell your story – I am financially unable to do much at this moment, but your brother and sister sent me to school to hone my skills and I will gladly lend them to a cause that I believe in. While I appreciate public records, I will still sit at a table and gladly listen to your story directly from you.

[1/31, 2:11 PM] mdmawere1: Thanks for the detailed response. I shall respond point by point so that we can use this chat as a literacy campaign since this platform approach that is user driven may not have a precedent to rely upon.

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Adv. Shavirai Mawere (Photo credit: Facebook)

[1/29, 7:21 AM] mdmawere1: PLEASE TAKE NOTICE THAT ADV SHAVIRAI has joined the BOAF LEADERSHIP group.

Take the opportunity to welcome him.

He can provide leadership on the legal and constitutional questions.

If you have a problem in crafting the questions so that we can get people like MUPASIRI to help.

[1/29, 8:11 AM] Colletta Madzvamuse: I hope you had a restful night

[1/29, 8:12 AM] mdmawere1: And you too. Sorry to make you overwork

[1/29, 8:16 AM] Colletta Madzvamuse: Sekuru, instead of hearing other people’s point of views, what you think is right. I haven’t seen anywhere where someone gave their trend of thought and you agreed with them. With the way you respond to anyone who posts anything that’s contrary to your views, it seems in these Groups that you’re the one with all the Wisdom. How can we have discussions? It’s now like lectures. Where you’re the lecturer who knows it all and everyone else should learn from you. Maybe that’s how it is. Kuti you’re trying to have discussions with danta heads who have no clue. How do we engage when you come back at us with your views? It’s better we don’t post anything because we’re not at your level of enlightenment.

[1/29, 8:24 AM] Colletta Madzvamuse: What I posted about What a LEADER is, that’s what I believe and that’s what I stand by. Anyone who thinks different should be entitled to their beliefs. But if you want more people to engage in these Groups Sekuru, they should feel free to express their views without being attacked for it or made to look like they don’t know. If you’re enlightened in certain areas, which you are, enlightening others without making yourself feel better than them goes a long way. There are so many things Sekuru that you can learn from some people in these Groups. But at the moment it seems like ndimi munoziva zvese. Which is fine if you want the Group to be that way. Most people admire what you’ve been able to accomplish in this life. They wouldn’t mind coming to hear you speak if you want the Groups to be that way.

[1/29, 8:29 AM] mdmawere1: Not sure if you want to learn, unlearn and relearn.

[1/29, 8:33 AM] mdmawere1: Why are you so judgmental? Anyone who corrects me is my friend than anyone who wants to hear your voice? 

Why are you not responding in the group and in so doing let ideas battle ideas? 

Your thinking is yours and my thinking is mine. 

The group consists of independent minds.

I responded because your mind is similar to many others and mine may be the minority hence the purpose is for both sides of the coin to be given expression whether by me or another.

What prejudice do you suffer by ideas being given freedom to be in the open?

[1/29, 8:34 AM] Colletta Madzvamuse: I can learn so much from you Sekuru. You have so much in you that I can benefit from. But I’m finding it hard to learn, unlearn, and relearn with your approach. It feels like a beating anytime I don’t respond to something your way.

[1/29, 8:34 AM] mdmawere1: Mucha asked me to write a memoir and perhaps he should have asked you.

[1/29, 8:36 AM] mdmawere1: I had one manager at the World Bank who used to correct every sentence I wrote in red.

One day, I was no angry that he was deliberately pulling me down. Do you want to know what his response was?

[1/29, 8:39 AM] mdmawere1: Do you agree that in the group and in any respects, you and I are equal?

If so, I have no time and place to change your mind.

Education only exists for the people who wish to learn but clearly you seem to know everything and any different view to you is an attack on you.

Imagine you were the President of a country and someone known to you gives another view than yours, what would follow?

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