South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid

Bram Fischer

(April 23, 1908 - May 8, 1975)

Lawyer and political activist


Abram, or Bram, Fischer was born on 23 April 1908 in the Orange Free State. He was born into a prominent Afrikaans family, his father being a Judge President of the Orange Free State Supreme Court. His grandfather had also been a Prime Minister of the Orange River Colony and Bram proceeded to study law. After completing his studies in South Africa he spent a further three years from 1931 to 1934 at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar.

Fischer’s political views were unconventional and he joined the Communist Party of South African (CPSA), openly participating in its activities. This did not harm his career as a corporate lawyer and he was widely admired as a brilliant man with the potential to possibly lead the country as Prime Minister, provided his political opinions became less unorthodox.

During the 1940’s Fischer served on the Johannesburg District Committee and the Central Committee of the CPSA. In 1943 he helped A. B. Xuma revise the African National Congress (ANC) constitution and was charged with incitement during the mineworkers’ strike in 1946. He was also a member of the Congress of Democrats and formed part of the defence team for the leaders of the movement during the Treason Trial of 1956 to 1961. He also defended the accused during the Rivonia Trial in 1964.

It was inevitable that his defence of and involvement with anti-Apartheid activists would implicate him in illegal activities and in September 1964 Fischer was arrested and charged with being a member of the Communist Party, an illegal organisation. He was granted bail and in January 1965 he went underground and was only recaptured in November. In 1966 he was found guilty of violating the Suppression of Communism Act and conspiring to commit sabotage leading to a conviction of life imprisonment. In 1967 he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize.

In 1974 it became known that Fischer was seriously ill with cancer and liberal newspapers and political leaders mounted an intensive campaign for his release. They were successful and he was moved to his brother’s home in Bloemfontein a few weeks before his death in May 1975.


This biography is from South African History Online. Used by permission. 
AODL African Studies Center MSU Matrix NEH