AMHERST, Mass. - University of Massachusetts English department chair Stephen Clingman’s new biography of pioneering anti-apartheid leader Bram Fischer will be featured during a special event at the South African Parliament Tues., Feb. 3, when Chief Justice of South Africa, Ismail Mohammed, delivers the second annual Bram Fischer Memorial Lecture. The lecture will highlight the official publication of Clingman’s biography. Clingman will also give a reading and book signing at Exclusive Books in Johannesburg on Feb. 12. The second event is open to the media and the public.
"Bram Fischer: Afrikaner Revolutionary" (University of Massachusetts Press) covers more than 100 years of South African history and shows how some whites in that country were committed to the cause of equality, Clingman says. Though Fischer was born into one of the most prominent of Afrikaner nationalist families, he went on to a distinguished law career in which he worked closely with Nelson Mandela and others in the pursuit of social justice. From 1956-61, he participated in the defense of 156 individuals accused of treason. In 1964, at great personal risk, he led the defense of Mandela and Mandela’s co-accused in the infamous Rivonia Trial. By 1965, Fischer was himself a fugitive of the law, evading the police for 10 months underground and in disguise. Eventually, he was captured and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released from jail in 1975 only as he was dying of cancer.
"While my book is a history of an extraordinary individual during the anti-apartheid years, it remains relevant today," says Clingman. "On the one hand, the spirit of Fischer’s legacy infused the miraculous transition to democracy and reconciliation in the elections of 1994. On the other hand, with past South African president P.W. Botha now on trial, questions of what it means to be an Afrikaner still persist. Fischer was convicted for his definition of what that meant. His struggle involved the transformation of identity."
Advance praise for Clingman’s book has been intense among writers and scholars. South African novelist Nadine Gordimer, the 1991 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, and also the subject of a book by Clingman, said: "This is not only the story of an extraordinary personality, but also an extraordinary family, and the time and place of one of the twentieth century’s most devastating experiments in the denial of common humanity. How Bram Fischer resolved – in sacrifice of material success, easy honors, personal freedom, and finally his life – the contradictions of his situation as a white and Afrikaner is told with honesty, deep intelligence, and admirable skill worthy of the subject. The apartheid government would not give Fischer’s ashes to his children. He has no monument in stone; but this book is testimony that his life continues in his great contributions to the free South Africa now realized."