Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" and South Africa "Hamba Kahle" to an old Human Rights Advocate called Bob Hepple

Bob, who spent his first 29 years in his native South Africa and his last 52 in his adopted Britain and has died at the age of 81, came from a long line of protestors against and victims of oppression, from a trade union activist Grandfather and Suffragette Grandmother, to a Mother with Jewish relatives in the Holocaust and Father hospitalised by South African Nazi thugs and Labour Party leader. It is little wonder that, once he qualified as an attorney, he would use his sharp legal intellect, to address the big issues of his day : Apartheid in South Africa and racial discrimination and trades union power in Britain.

What you possibly didn't know about Bob, that he :

* was born in Johannesburg in 1934 as Robert, son of Josephine Zwarenstein and Alexander Hepple, who worked in the wholesale meat business, himself the son of Tom, who had emigrated to South Africa in the 19th century, became a shop steward in the Amalgamated Society of Engineers and a founding member of the South African Labour Party and Agnes, were who told him stories from her 1870's girlhood "about the famous Battle of Ishlandwana when the Zulus defeated the British Army and when in Pietermaritzburg they had to form a laager to protect the town as they were expecting a Zulu attack which in fact never happened" and later valued them as "a living kind of link for me with the history of colonisation in South Africa."

* was five years old when the Second World War broke out in 1939 and remembered school "air raid practice but there was of course never any air attack on South Africa" and nine when his father was elected as a Labour Party member on Transvaal's Provincial Council, served in "a kind of Dad’s Army" and was beaten up by members of a Nazi-supporting, Afrikaner organisation called 'Ossewabrandwag', which had among its members, John Vorster, later Prime Minister of South Africa and remembered "visiting him in hospital after this incident. So that showed me the dividing lines in South Africa and made me think of many of the members of the subsequent Nationalist Government in the light of having been Nazi supporters."

* at the end of the War in 1945, attended Jeppe Boys High School in Johannesburg, modelled on an English Grammar School, was 14 when his father was elected a Labour Member of Parliament in the House of Assembly and as a result his "memories there were not entirely happy ones, because my father was active as a Labour politician and he was not in favour with most of the white parents and they passed this on to their children. So I was always being harassed and ridiculed because of my father’s political affiliations" and apart from an inspirational history teacher, found the others "bigots and racists".

* was 14 in 1948 when the National Party came to power and couldn't understand why his mother wept and said ""what’s wrong ?" because my father had just stood as a Labour candidate in the elections and he had won with a very handsome majority" and she said " "this is going to be a disaster for South Africa." She had foreseen that and she was right. First of all South Africa became virtually a Police state by stages and secondly, the Apartheid Laws were introduced. There had always been white supremacy and a lot of  segregation but now it became the policy of the law. I think it made an enormous difference to my life and to the lives of many people."

* at school took part in the Debating Society, was keen on amateur dramatics, interested in writing and becoming a playwright or a journalist, but recalled "everybody I spoke to said, "no, no, you must get a qualification as a lawyer and then you can decide"" and as a first step, in 1951 started a 'BA in Economics, English and Afrikaans' at the University of the Witwatersrand, where Nelson Mandela had graduated with a law degree in 1949 and took with him two formative, post-War experiences : when he learnt about the Holocaust victims in his mother's family and when "taken out by an Aunt to the shanty towns developing around Johannesburg" and "saw the dreadful conditions, children suffering from malnutrition, open sewers and I made a link and so when I went to University I became a student activist."

* began his first year at 18 "at the time of the defiance campaign organised by the African National Congress where they broke the racial segregation laws - going to white post offices and white railway carriages" and as a member, then Chairman of the 'Student Liberal Association', organised a concert in a black township as a challenge to the laws and as a result, in Orlando Township, had his "first experience of arrest, spending a night in the cells", was described in a nationalist newspaper as 'A young man in a red tie' and after being tried, was acquitted.

* in 1953 saw Nelson Mandela in action for the first time when he was a 19 and attending a rally in Sophiatown, where, with the threat of a riot, he prevented a police attack, when he jumped on the platform and quietened things down when got everybody singing and recalled : "He was cool, almost serene and could take a quick decision as how to fix a situation."

* as President of the 'Student Representative Council' (seated centre), led protest demonstrations against racial segregation introduced at the University and particularly in the Great Hall, previously open for mixed race concerts and other events and "was then brought before a disciplinary tribunal, but they let me off. I wasn’t expelled or anything like that. But there was a very bad atmosphere" and faced hostility from three professors who were strong nationalists who "really gave me a rather rough time. But I passed, I got through the exam, but they would make me very uncomfortable even in oral examinations, throwing me off my bat. I always felt there were a lot of undercurrents there" and followed his first degree with a three-year, part-time law degree while 'serving articles of clerkship' to become an attorney.

* after work at 4.00 pm every afternoon "would go to Wits for two hours of lectures and then after a bite of supper you would spend the evening in the library until 11.00 pm. So my life was very full and I really took to law, I enjoyed it" and within the Law Faculty was was influenced by "great men" : Bobby Hahlo (right),who inspired him with the brilliance of his teaching; Ellison Kahn (left)"probably the greatest legal scholar that South Africa has produced" who gave him a "wonderful training, he lectured on contract and constitutional law and conflict of laws" and "adopted an interesting technique of taking Dicey’s 'Rule of Law' and examining how far South Africa, at that time, compared to Dicey’s vision of the Rule of Law and on every count, of course, South Africa failed" and Maurice Millner who taught him the law of 'tort' or 'delict' as it was called in South Africa and "always related everything to legal history, to society and gripped one’s imagination."

* politically, as a member of the 'South African Congress of Democrats' attended ANC meetings and through his father got to know ANC leaders like Walter Sisulu and also "leaders on the other side as my father was respected also, even by the Nationalists, so when he was in Parliament I used to go there and on one occasion I even played for the South African Parliamentary Cricket Team against the Bar, led by a Nationalist Cabinet Minister. So there was a kind of camaraderie among MPs outside the debating chamber so I got to know people on both sides of the spectrum."

* having been awarded the 'Society of Advocates Prize for Best Law Graduate' at the age of 23 in 1957, worked as a full time attorney, then decided he "would rather get back to academic teaching and Hahlo invited me to a lectureship which was vacant without any advertisement or anything, he just said : "come, I have got this vacancy" and I went. But I think he was a little nervous, knowing my political background" and "taught some insolvency, some contract, all of which I was very interested in" and was asked to contribute to a chapter to 'The Union of South Africa' on 'Economic and Racial Legislation', but needing more time, having agreed to  to administer the multi-racial, 'South African Congress of Trade Unions' when its leaders were arrested, returned to practise as an advocate at the Johannesburg Bar in 1961.

* with Mandela now on the run from the police and known as the 'Black Pimpernel', was "asked to join a support team in Johannesburg that moved him around safe houses, took him to secret meeting and carried messages" and in order to avoid suspicion "Mandela would don a cap and a white chauffeur's coat and drive my smart green Wolseley car, with me in the back. We were never stopped" and recalled : "At the time he loved a musical called 'King Kong' which had just come out, which was about a black boxer and we would both sing songs from that and he loved singing. We also sang protest songs. He was wonderful - charming and charismatic character. I took Nelson to meet my family and he always asked after them."

* having got to know and form a bond with Mandela, was not surprised when, in 1962, at the age of 28, was drafted in to help him prepare for his 'Incitement to Strike Trail' and recalled that the Prosecutor, who had known Mandela as an Attorney in Johannesburg, approached him when they were talking in the court cell and when he said : "Please can I talk to Mandela alone ?", had replied : "You know you can’t - that’s not proper," to which Mandela said : "Okay if he wants to" and after ten minutes when the Prosecutor came out with tears streaming down his face, said to Mandela, : "What’s going on here, what happened ?" to which he replied : "Well, you won’t believe this, but he asked for my forgiveness" to which he said : "I hope you told him where to get off" and Mandela said : "No, no, I told him I knew he was just doing his job, then he kissed me".

* after Mandela received his 5 year sentence, carried on helping underground black leaders who based at their secret headquarters at Lilliesleaf  Farm in Rivonia and recalled : "I went out there several times, quite regularly and I was kind of a lifeline for them because they relied on me to bring them messages, translate them back to other people" and  unfortunately on 11th July 1963  "was there for a meeting. Soon after arriving the police raided and we were all arrested" and recalled : "I still remember the actual words the policeman used : "Ah, Advocate Hepple. Now we have got you all " "

* found that, detained in solitary confinement without trial for 90 days "They just took the gloves off. They were remorseless, they got a new breed of security branch brutes", such as the notorious Brigadier Theunis 'Rooi Rus' Swanepoel and recalled the Russian roulette where : "They would have a pistol on the table and say : "Now, we will spin this around. Do you want the bullet or do you want the noose ?" " and was "not allowed to sit, kept standing, couldn’t go to the toilet and so on and kept under intensive interrogation for several days on end without sleep and so it certainly eventually wears you down" and continued throughout his life to "have nightmares about the times in prison and the interrogation" and said in 2013 : "I still have dreams about being chased by the police."

* in 1963 escaped prosecution in the 'Rivonia Treason Trail', in which Mandela was jailed for 27 years
and was given a 'conditional release' when the Prosecutor announced he was going to be called as a 'state witness' and when he told Mandela what they offered recalled :  "He said to me"You must make a personal decision". If he has said : "Whatever you do, don't do it, as it will give them a political victory", I am sure I would have turned them down. But I went ahead with it and was released"and because "there was no way that I was going to be a state witness against these people who I admired and respected and so I had to find a way of getting out straightaway."

* three weeks later with his wife and the help of the underground ANC, climbed over a fence into Bechuanaland, flew to Tanzania where they were granted political asylum and then to Britain where he arrived "on a cold December day seeking asylum" and when he said to the immigration officer that  he "intended to study at university", was asked : "Where are your letters of acceptance?" and in their absence was served a deportation order to go back to Tanzania, but after the intervention of Canon John Collins "who was a very good friend of those involved in the Anti-Apartheid struggle" who phoned, on a Sunday morning, the Home Secretary, Henry Brooke, was let in for seven days and then indefinitely.
* now reunited with his two small children, who had been left behind with grandparents when he and his wife had fled, recognised he needed a degree in English Law to get a job practising at the Bar or teaching in Britain and secured a place as a two year postgraduate LLB at Clare College Cambridge, which covered 'Conflict of Laws' and 'Negligence in English and Roman law' and found the teaching of Mickey Dias "a wonderful bridge for me between South African law, Roman Dutch and English law" and in 1965 was granted British citizenship on the basis of the patriality of his Sunderland-born grandfather.

* found that, as a refugee from apartheid South Africa, became interested in and was shocked to find the extent of racial discrimination in Britain  : "In particular, signs in windows of landladies, saying: 'NO COLOUREDS. NO IRISH. NO DOGS' and workers would go on strike when so-called coloured Asian and Afro-Caribbean workers were engaged to drive the buses" and chose it as the focus for his postgrad dissertation with the support of his supervisor, Dr Paul O‟Higgins who "expressed enthusiasm and immediately saw how important it was to ask : 'Why was there no law on the subject ?' and 'What role could law play ?' and 'How did the existing common law and legislation impact on discrimination ?' "

* saw his dissertation grow into a book, 'Race, Jobs and the Law in Britain' published in 1968 and believed it informed the Parliamentary debate which produced the Race Relations Act in that year which made it illegal 'to refuse housing, employment or public services to a person on grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origins' and believed it "was used by Parliamentary Committees and others, both because I had compiled an appendix showing examples of the kind of racial discrimination that was going on, many people at that time didn't believe there was much racial discrimination and secondly, I discussed the legal issues."

* covered the bar course during vacations and was called by Gray's Inn in 1966 and as a lecturer at Clare College. shared 'Labour Law' lectures with Paul O'Higgins when it was prominent on the public agenda : "a report by the Royal Commission under Lord Donovan ; the Conservative Government introduced its Industrial Relations Act in 1971 to try and restrain the unions. There had been the Miners’ Strike of 1974 and the Heath Government fell and a lot of new laws coming up, the law of unfair dismissal, all of these things that we didn’t have before and Paul and I got the opportunities then to write quite extensively" and produced the first edition of  'Employment Law' in 1971 and "had, at one point, as many as 16 people doing research in Labour Law in the early 70s" and in same year took up a lectureship in the Law Department at Nottingham University, then in 1968, at the age of 34, returned to Cambridge for an eight year stint, in what he considered his most productive years.

 * published a second edition of 'Race, Jobs and the Law in Britain' in 1970, in which he explained the 1968 Act and "was critical of it in some respects" and was "glad to say that many of my criticisms were met in the 1970s because first the 'Sex Discrimination Act' was passed in 1975 and then the 'Race Relations Act' in 1976, which adopted or followed many of the suggestions I had made in the second edition of my book."
* in 1971 assisted radical, German student leader, Rudi Dutschke, in his unsuccessful fight against his deportation from Britain, who, having been shot and brain-damaged by a right-wing fanatic in Berlin and allowed into Britain for a short period, wanted to study, was accepted as a student at Clare Hall, Cambridge, but was considered by the Heath Government to be an 'undesirable alien' who had engaged in 'subversive activity' and worked closely with his solicitor and counsel sitting "through all the hearings and the conferences with Dutschke and at the end of it all, I wrote this article based on the transcripts and what I had seen and heard and I raised a number of questions about the inadequacy of Administrative Law to deal with this sort of case" in which he concluded : 'Perhaps tears were shed as well for modern administrative justice which failed to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of 19th century liberalism'.

* in 1976 had a Chair created for him at the University of Kent as 'Professor of Social and Labour Law' and later rued : "I think I succumbed to flattery, and it turned out, I am afraid, to be a mistake. Because when I got there I thought it was a university based on a collegiate system like Cambridge, but it couldn’t work in a modern university because the individual colleges, there were four colleges, had no resources of their own and everything was planned by central bureaucracy" and, after a year, remained an honorary professor, but became 'Chairman of Industrial Tribunals' "a much easier, but better paid, job than being a professor" and dealt with individual disputes involving 'unfair dismissal,' 'race and sex discrimination' and introduced "the notion of the duty of mutual cooperation, which was very little used in Labour Law until then" and gave a judgment which became one of its basic tenets. 

* hankered for a return to academic life and in 1982 became Professor of English Law at University College London which "was founded for the dissenters, for the non-Anglicans; the Catholics, the Jews, the agnostics and all the rest and the first thing they did was establish a faculty of law" and later reflected that "in many ways I had some of my very best teaching years at UCL. I had a thoroughly enjoyable time. I think it is a wonderful institution and a wonderful faculty, of which I became Dean and Head of Department in 1989" and at the same time was asked in 1986 to become a member of the 'Commission for Racial Equality' and chaired the enquiries into racial discrimination in the admissions at St Mary’s Medical School and also in the London Underground.

* in the 1980s found himself "quite often on television commenting on things like the 1984 Miners’ Strike and so on, not on the merits, but more on the legal position because this was a huge confrontation. Mrs Thatcher wanted to restrain the power of the unions and she basically took away the right to strike, limited it very severely and restricted collective bargaining" and "knew quite a number of the leading union figures like Jack Jones and I did a lot of work for the TUC and I was involved in advising the TUC on its proposals for legislative reform. I also advised somebody called Tony Blair, who was the Employment Spokesman for the Labour Party at that time. I was in a group of academics, who were giving advice, but he didn’t always follow that advice."

* in 1990 at the age of 56, had his 'Banning Order' for South Africa overturned and was invited to the Labour Congress in Durban and "revisited the house in which I was I was born and another one in which I had lived and went to the university and then I flew down to Durban and gave a lecture to the labour law conference. So it was a very emotional experience for me, going back" and had stopped off en route in newly independent Namibia, where the International Labour Organisation had appointed him as an expert to draft a new Labour Law and presented the draft in 1991, flanked on the left by President Njoma and the right by Prime Minister Geingob.

* back in Britain in 1993, became the Master of Clare College and the following year a member of the 'Lord Chancellors Committee on Legal Education and Conduct' and after much work and discussion, delivered its first report with recommendations he referred to as 'Renewal of the Liberal Law Degree' and saw as "quite an important turning point in legal education in this country."

* at the age of 60 in 1994, was invited to join a ministerial task force in South Africa to draft the 'Labour Relations Act'  and "felt that all of the years I had spent in the UK trying to get the knowledge and understanding of labour law, I could pay back because I could bring that experience to bear whenever devising new laws. And I would like to say that some of the provisions in the Labour Relations Act, I am not sure how successful, were based directly on my own knowledge and experience of labour relations".

* in 1996, with President Mandela's State Visit to Britain was invited to Buckingham Palace and recalled : "We queued up with the Queen and someone announced my name. He lent over the Queen and he asked : "Bob is that you ?"  and instead of a decorous handshake I got a hug. I was very excited. The last time we had seen each other was in court in Pretoria in '63. I remember saying : "I've been waiting 33 years for this". The thought that a man who was sentenced to life imprisonment was now with the Queen and I was being presented to him. The queen was certainly an admirer. The world knows Mandela as an icon of peace and reconciliation but the guy I knew was a professional revolutionary - a hard fighter but with a great sense of empathy and of course I will always remember singing all those songs in the car !"

* retired as a Professor of Law at the age of 67 in 2001 and became involved in human rights and education charities : 'The Canon Collins Educational Trust for South Africa' to raise money for projects and university students in South Africa who want to study in Britain; as Chairman of 'The European Roma Rights Centre' based in Budapest, a law organisation, taking up cases on behalf of the Roma, in his opinion : "the most oppressed minority in Europe" and achieved a court victory against the segregation of Roma children into special schools in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

* whilst Chairman of the 'Nuffield Council on Bioethics' chaired two working parties ; "One on the subject of the ethics of research into genetics and human behaviour, like the connection between your genes and your intelligence or your sexuality and so on, and that was a report on a subject which had not been looked at before" and "on the forensic use of bio information, in particular DNA. And that was very interesting, we got a report out rather quickly and it has had a lot of coverage because it deals with all of the current disputes about civil liberties and police powers on the one hand and the benefits of DNA in fighting crime."

* on receiving a knighthood in 2004, said with perfect self-effacement : "It was a complete surprise, I had no idea it was going on. I had no idea what processes come into play in it and the citation was simply 'For services to legal studies'. So, you know, it was a great honour to be given this, but I took it in part as an honour to the Faculty" and in 2006 was appointed 'Judge of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal' which he admitted was again "a total mystery to me because I was asked by the Foreign Office whether I would like to accept the nomination" and involved sitting on a "kind of employment tribunal for all the 100,000 or more employees of the UN all over the world" and meeting two months a year, once in Geneva and once in New York.

* in 2013 at the age of 79, the 'Labour Law Research Network' gave him an award for 'Distinguished Career Contribution to Labour Law' and in 2014 he received The South African 'Order of Luthuli' for his 'Exceptional contribution to the struggle for human rights and democracy.'

* explaining why he approved and admired two works of David Williams, President of Wolfson College which addressed the issues of 'official secrets' and 'public order', used words which could equally fit his own great work and achievements :

"They are addressed to the general public, the intelligent public, not just to the legal profession."

In 2014 he received The South African 'Order of Luthuli' for his 'Exceptional contribution to the struggle for human rights and democracy'. President Zuma paid tribute when bestowing the honour :

Image result for president zuma"His bravery in the times when fighting for liberation was courting danger. He chose to align himself with the marginalised to ensure that all who live in South Africa enjoy the privilege of equality"

 What better epitaph might an old human rights advocate have ?