Lawyer who helped Nelson Mandela escape the death penalty

As the instructing solicitor for Nelson Mandela’s defence team at the Rivonia trial of 1963-64, Joel Joffe, later Lord Joffe, who has died aged 85, played a key role in helping the future South African president and others avoid the death penalty. That was the severest sentence that could have resulted from being convicted of sabotage, and Mandela described Joffe as “the general behind the scenes in our defence”.

Charges followed a police raid in July 1963 on Lilliesleaf Farm in the Johannesburg suburb of Rivonia, where Mandela and his anti-apartheid co-conspirators – including Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Lionel “Rusty” Bernstein, Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada and Dennis Goldberg – had been plotting the overthrow of the government. Mandela was already in jail for another offence and was indicted later.

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