Nelson Mandela, who was memorialized this week in South Africa, has been remembered as an icon, fighter, liberator, reconciler, president and prisoner. But did you know he was also a lawyer?
A two-year diploma in law on top of his B.A. allowed Mandela to practice law and in August 1952, he and Oliver Tambo established South Africa’s first black law firm, Mandela and Tambo, according to the Dhaka Tribune.
At that time, apartheid laws gave black South Africans need for legal representation. White law firms often were too expensive for blacks and, as Mandela found out through his own investigation, many white firms “charged Africans even higher fees for criminal and civil cases than they did their far wealthier white clients,” according to a quote from his book, excerpted by the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
Mandela and Tambo focused on providing legal representation for Africans who might have otherwise entered court without representation. Mandela’s firm served as a legal aid and public defender wrapped into one, fulfilling the core mission of the legal profession by providing access to justice, according to the St. Louis paper.
Of course, Mandela later needed his own lawyer. That man was George Bizos, who says he first represented Mandela in order to unseat a magistrate who would not recognize Mandela as a lawyer.
Bizos also gave great counsel when Mandela gave his famous speech saying he was “prepared to die,” telling the future president to add “if need be” because, “you don’t want to be accused of seeking martyrdom,” Bizos told Al Jazeera.
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