Ahmed Kathrada, Denis Goldberg, Joel Joffe and George Bizos after receiving the Freedom of the City of London on January 27, 2016. Andrew Mlangeni, the fifth recipient was unable to attend. AFP/BEN STANSALL
Ahmed Kathrada, Denis Goldberg, Joel Joffe and George Bizos after receiving the Freedom of the City of London on January 27, 2016. Andrew Mlangeni, the fifth recipient was unable to attend. AFP/BEN STANSALL

London — People have paid tribute to Joel Joffe, the lawyer who defended Nelson Mandela in the trial that led to the anti-apartheid icon being jailed.

Lord Joffe died on Sunday at the age of 85, said Oxfam, the aid agency which he chaired. The Nelson Mandela Foundation said the human rights lawyer died in London.

Joffe was a key part of Mandela’s defence team in the 1963-4 Rivonia Trial, where Mandela was given a life sentence for sabotage against the apartheid state.

After leaving for Britain, he founded a big insurance firm and later became a parliamentarian spearheading the campaign for assisted dying for the terminally ill.

Leading British anti-apartheid campaigner Peter Hain said Joffe was an "iconic figure" who never sought the limelight — "he just supported everybody else".

Joffe was "a totally generous person, warm, passionate, and he continued to fly the flag for the anti-apartheid struggle and subsequently the new SA," Hain said.

Joffe was born to a Jewish family in Johannesburg on May 12 1932 and studied business, then law at the University of the Witwatersrand, graduating in 1955.

Mandela’s wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela approached him to defend her husband in the Rivonia Trial, where several leading members of the ANC were facing charges.

In his autobiography, Mandela described Joffe’s role as being "the general behind the scenes in our defence".

"For me, it was about saving the lives of these wonderful people," Joffe told BBC radio in 2007.

"The nine members of the ANC were the finest people I had ever met — such courage, such integrity, so committed … It was a great privilege to defend them."

Following the trial, SA offered him the opportunity to leave as long as he never returned. Rejected by Australia, he moved to Britain in 1965.

Joffe co-founded what became the Allied Dunbar life assurance group in 1970. It was bought out by Zurich in 1998.

Joffe was the chairperson of Oxfam from 1995 to 2001.

"He was able to use his sharp legal mind and years of experience in business to challenge authority and increase the effectiveness of our work around the world," said Mark Goldring, CEO of Oxfam’s UK branch.

"His fearless campaigning for care of the elderly, corporate responsibility and global development shaped the world for the better, yet he always maintained his trademark self-deprecating sense of humour." Joffe was appointed a member of the British parliament’s upper House of Lords in 2000, sitting for the Labour Party.

Joffe retired from the House of Lords in 2015 and was awarded the freedom of the City of London the following year.

In 2007, Joffe wrote a book about his experiences entitled The State vs Nelson Mandela: The trial that changed SA.

In its foreword, Mandela wrote that the book would serve as "one of the most reliable sources for understanding what happened at that trial and how we came to live and see democracy triumph in SA".

AFP

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