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Bloemfontein Personalities

Thomas Maphikela Maphikela House Thomas Maphikela was one of the founder members of the ANC in Bloemfontein in 1912. His double-storey house, where important ANC meetings were held, has been declared a National Monument
Bram Fischer

Abram “Bram” Fischer was born on 23 April 1908 in the Orange Free State. He was born into a prominent Afrikaans family, son of Percy Ulrich Fischer, at the time a member of the Bloemfontein Bar. Percy later became a much-respected Free State judge.

The Fischers were a sixth-generation South African family. Percy’s father was Abram Fischer, a highly regarded politician of conservative outlook. He was the prime minister of the Orange River Colony from 1907 to 1910.

Bram initially was a vocal Nationalist. His schooling was at Grey College, Bloemfontein; from there he went to Grey University College in his hometown. Bram excelled at tennis and rugby. In 1928 he represented the Free State as scrum half against the All Blacks under Maurice Brownlee.

He was also a member of the Congress of Democrats and in 1952 Bram defended Nelson MandelaWalter Sisulu and eighteen other ANC leaders for participating in the Defiance Campaign. The year 1953 saw Bram banned under the Suppression of Communism Act from most gatherings and from the Congress of Democrats. For years thereafter there were police raids on his advocate’s chambers and his house. None of these happenings affected the flow of briefs coming to Bram, outstanding lawyer and counsel. In court he was the epitome of the ideal English barrister: quiet, unassuming, exquisitely polite and thus often disarming to a hostile witness, and, when necessary, devastating in cross-examination. Except for three years, Bram was elected a member of the Johannesburg Bar Council from 1943 to 1963, being chairman in 1961.

Thus, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) was formed, a product of the ANC and the SACP, committed to a violent struggle.

On 11 July 1963 at Lilies leaf farm in Rivonia the police arrested many of the leaders of the liberation movement. At the subsequent trial for sabotage and other charges, one of the accused was Nelson Mandela. Bram, who by a fortunate chance was not on the farm when the police raid took place, led the defence team. In agreeing to appear for the Rivonia accused, Bram courageously took an enormous risk, for he could easily have been correctly pointed out by some of the witnesses for the prosecution as having attended many meetings at Lilies leaf. In the end, eight accused, including Mandela, were found guilty. That they were sentenced not to death but to life imprisonment was partly a result of the dedicated efforts of the defence team.

On 13 June 1964 Molly was killed in a tragic accident in a motorcar driven by Bram, who was overwhelmed by grief.

It was inevitable that his defence of and involvement with anti-Apartheid activists would implicate him in illegal activities and on 23 September 1964 Fischer was arrested for contravening the Suppression of Communism Act. At the start of the trial he was granted bail to argue a case in England, undertaking to return, which he did. The trial commenced on 16 November 1964. On 23 January 1965, however, Bram went underground. In a letter he stated that no one should submit to the barbaric laws and monstrous policy of apartheid.

He was only recaptured in December, disguised as “Douglas Black”. Now his trial was on far more serious charges, including sabotage. In a sworn statement from the dock, he said that there was a higher duty to break immoral laws passed by a small minority to deprive the majority, on account of their colour, of their most elementary rights. “At least one Afrikaner should make this protest.”

In 1966 he was found guilty of violating the Suppression of Communism Act and conspiring to commit sabotage leading to a conviction of life imprisonment. In 1967 he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize.

In 1974 it became known that Fischer was seriously ill with cancer and liberal newspapers and political leaders mounted an intensive campaign for his release. They were successful and he was moved to his brother’s home in Bloemfontein a few weeks before his death.

Martha Moipone Motlhakwana She was a fearless domestic worker who was at the forefront of organising the milestone 1956 women’s anti-pass march. Her home was also used as a secret place for holding ANC meetings. She died in 1989.
Charlotte Maxeke Charlotte Maxeke was born on 7 April 1847 in Fort Beaufort in Cape Town. From a young age Maxeke showed musical talent. She finished primary school early and her parents moved to Kimberly, where Maxeke completed her secondary school. It was at this time that she took part in musical activities. She joined a choir, and traveled throughout Europe performing. One of the highlights was the 1897 Jubilee at the London Royal Albert Hall where she performed for the Queen. Maxeke then travelled to the US on a church scholarship, where she obtained her doctorate in Arts and Humanities. She met her husband Marshall Maxeke during her stay in the US. Upon her return to South Africa, Maxeke took up teaching and also took part in political activities in the African National Congress (ANC). She co-founded the Bantu Women’s League of South Africa, later renamed the ANC Women’s League. Maxeke died on 16 October 1939.
Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela

Rolihlahla Mandela was born into the Madiba clan in the village of Mvezo, Transkei, on 18 July 1918. His mother was Nonqaphi Nosekeni and his father was Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela, principal counsellor to the Acting King of the Thembu people, Jongintaba Dalindyebo. In 1930, when he was 12 years old, his father died and the young Rolihlahla became a ward of Jongintaba at the Great Place in Mqhekezweni 1 .

Hearing the elders’ stories of his ancestors’ valour during the wars of resistance, he dreamed also of making his own contribution to the freedom struggle of his people.

He attended primary school in Qunu where his teacher, Miss Mdingane, gave him the name Nelson, in accordance with the custom of giving all schoolchildren “Christian” names. He completed his Junior Certificate at Clarkebury Boarding Institute and went on to Healdton, a Wesleyan secondary school of some repute, where he matriculated.

Mandela began his studies for a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University College of Fort Hare but did not complete the degree there as he was expelled for joining in a student protest.

On his return to the Great Place at Mqhekezweni the King was furious and said if he didn’t return to Fort Hare he would arrange wives for him and his cousin Justice. They ran away to Johannesburg instead, arriving there in 1941. There he worked as a mine security officer and after meeting Walter Sisulu, an estate agent, he was introduced to Lazer Sidelsky. He then did his articles through a firm of attorneys – Witkin, Eidelman and Sidelsky.

He completed his BA through the University of South Africa and went back to Fort Hare for his graduation in 1943. Meanwhile, he began studying for an LLB at the University of the Witwatersrand. By his own admission he was a poor student and left the university in 1952 without graduating. He only started studying again through the University of London after his imprisonment in 1962 but also did not complete that degree.

In 1989, while in the last months of his imprisonment, he obtained an LLB through the University of South Africa. He graduated in absentia at a ceremony in Cape Town

Mandela, while increasingly politically involved from 1942, only joined the African National Congress in 1944 when he helped to form the ANC Youth League (ANCYL).

In 1944 he married Walter Sisulu’s cousin, Evelyn Mase, a nurse. They had two sons, Madiba Thembekile “Thembi” and Makgatho, and two daughters both called Makaziwe, the first of whom died in infancy. He and his wife divorced in 1958.

Mandela rose through the ranks of the ANCYL and through its efforts, the ANC adopted a more radical mass-based policy, the Programme of Action, in 1949. In 1952 he was chosen as the National Volunteer-in-Chief of the Defiance Campaign with Maulvi Cachalia as his deputy. This campaign of civil disobedience against six unjust laws was a joint programme between the ANC and the South African Indian Congress. He and 19 others were charged under the Suppression of Communism Act for their part in the campaign and sentenced to nine months of hard labour, suspended for two years.

A two-year diploma in law on top of his BA allowed Mandela to practise law, and in August 1952 he and Oliver Tambo established South Africa’s first black law firm, Mandela & Tambo.

At the end of 1952 he was banned for the first time. As a restricted person he was only permitted to watch in secret as the Freedom Charter was adopted in Kliptown on 26 June 1955

Mandela was arrested in a countrywide police swoop on 5 December 1955, which led to the 1956 Treason Trial. Men and women of all races found themselves in the dock in the marathon trial that only ended when the last 28 accused, including Mandela, were acquitted on 29 March 1961.

On 21 March 1960 police killed 69 unarmed people in a protest in Sharpeville against the pass laws. This led to the country’s first state of emergency and the banning of the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) on 8 April. Mandela and his colleagues in the Treason Trial were among thousands detained during the state of emergency.

During the trial Mandela married a social worker, Winnie Madikizela, on 14 June 1958. They had two daughters, Zenani and Zindziswa. The couple divorced in 1996.

Days before the end of the Treason Trial, Mandela travelled to Pietermaritzburg to speak at the All-in Africa Conference, which resolved that he should write to Prime Minister Verwoerd requesting a national convention on a non-racial constitution, and to warn that should he not agree there would be a national strike against South Africa becoming a republic. After he and his colleagues were acquitted in the Treason Trial, Mandela went underground and began planning a national strike for 29, 30 and 31 March.

In the face of massive mobilisation of state security the strike was called off early. In June 1961 he was asked to lead the armed struggle and helped to establish Umkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation), which launched on 16 December 1961 with a series of explosions.

On 11 January 1962, using the adopted name David Motsamayi, Mandela secretly left South Africa. He travelled around Africa and visited England to gain support for the armed struggle. He received military training in Morocco and Ethiopia and returned to South Africa in July 1962. He was arrested in a police roadblock outside Howick on 5 August while returning from KwaZulu-Natal, where he had briefed ANC President Chief Albert Luthuli about his trip.

He was charged with leaving the country without a permit and inciting workers to strike. He was convicted and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, which he began serving at the Pretoria Local Prison. On 27 May 1963 he was transferred to Robben Island and returned to Pretoria on 12 June. Within a month police raided Liliesleaf, a secret hide-out in Rivonia used by ANC and Communist Party activists, and several of his comrades were arrested.

On 9 October 1963 Mandela joined 10 others on trial for sabotage in what became known as the Rivonia Trial. While facing the death penalty his words to the court at the end of his famous “Speech from the Dock” on 20 April 1964 became immortalised. On 11 June 1964 Mandela and seven other accused, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Denis Goldberg, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni, were convicted and the next day were sentenced to life imprisonment. Goldberg was sent to Pretoria Prison because he was white, while the others went to Robben Island

Mandela’s mother died in 1968 and his eldest son, Thembi, in 1969. He was not allowed to attend their funerals.

On 31 March 1982 Mandela was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town with Sisulu, Mhlaba and Mlangeni. Kathrada joined them in October. When he returned to the prison in November 1985 after prostate surgery, Mandela was held alone. Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee visited him in hospital. Later Mandela initiated talks about an ultimate meeting between the apartheid government and the ANC

On 12 August 1988 he was taken to hospital where he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. After more than three months in two hospitals he was transferred on 7 December 1988 to a house at Victor Verster Prison near Paarl where he spent his last 14 months of imprisonment. He was released from its gates on Sunday 11 February 1990, nine days after the unbanning of the ANC and the PAC and nearly four months after the release of his remaining Rivonia comrades. Throughout his imprisonment he had rejected at least three conditional offers of release.

Mandela immersed himself in official talks to end white minority rule and in 1991 was elected ANC President to replace his ailing friend, Oliver Tambo. In 1993 he and President FW de Klerk jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize and on 27 April 1994 he voted for the first time in his life.

On 10 May 1994 he was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected President. On his 80th birthday in 1998 he married Graça Machel, his third wife. True to his promise, Mandela stepped down in 1999 after one term as President. He continued to work with the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund he set up in 1995 and established the Nelson Mandela Foundation and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation. In April 2007 his grandson, Mandla Mandela, was installed as head of the Mvezo Traditional Council at a ceremony at the Mvezo Great Place.

Nelson Mandela never wavered in his devotion to democracy, equality and learning. Despite terrible provocation, he never answered racism with racism. His life is an inspiration to all who are oppressed and deprived; and to all who are opposed to oppression and deprivation.

He died at his home in Johannesburg on 5 December 2013

Rantlai Petrus Molemela

Petros Rantlai Molemela was born on 16 April 1933, at a farm

called Bethel. At the tender age of 10, he joined the labour market as a farm worker without any education background. Following his father’s passing in 1948, he was appointed by PAO as a road construction worker using picks and shovels while his peers were at school. In pursuit of a better opportunity, in 1949 he was appointed by Louis Construction in Bloemfontein where he became part of the workforce that laid the foundation of the famous four Cooling Towers next to founding place of the ANC, Waaihoek. In 1952 he was appointed by Du Plessis Construction which constructed the High Court.

The move to Bloemfontein was also the start of Molemela Construction, which ntate Molemela started by building toilets in the township of Bochabela. This pioneer credits some of his achievements to people like the late Mme Winkie Direko, Principal Mochochoko of Number One School and a teacher by the name of Rabaji for earnestly begging him to attend night school. He started schooling in 1949, where he discovered his love for mathematics.

Dr. Molemela has never played soccer in his life. Rather, he was a cyclist who joined the Royal Rovers Cycling in his earlier years. He was introduced to Bloemfontein Celtic by his teacher, Rabaji. He formally took over Celtic in 1974, sponsoring the club from his pocket.

President Johannes Brand

Johannes Brand was born in Cape Town, and was educated at the South African College in that city. Continuing his studies at Leiden in the Netherlands, he took the degree of D.C.L. in 1845. He continued his law studies in Britain and was called to the English bar at the Inner Temple in 1849.

After his return to South Africa Brand settled in Cape Town, where he practised as an advocate in the Supreme Court of the Cape of Good Hope until 1863. In 1858 Brand was appointed professor of law in the South African College. As a young Member of the Cape Parliament, he became a keen supporter of John Molteno‘s “Responsible Government” movement, which advocated greater independence from Britain. However, finding its principles too moderate, he decided to emigrate to the Orange Free State, in solidarity with its strong republican ideals.

He was elected president of the Orange Free State in 1863, and subsequently re-elected for five year terms in 1869, 1874, 1879 and 1884. In 1864 he resisted the pressure of the Basuto on the Free State boundary, and after vainly endeavouring to induce Moshesh, the Basuto chief, to keep his people within bounds, he took up arms against them in 1865. This first war ended in the Treaty of Thaba Bosigo, signed on 3 April 1866; and a second war, which ended in the Treaty of Aliwal North, concluded on 12 February 1869. In 1871 he opposed the British annexation of the town of Kimberley without success

In 1871 Brand was solicited by a large party to become president of the South African Republic (Transvaal), and thus unite the two Boer republics of South Africa; but as the project was hostile to Great Britain he declined to do so, and maintained his constant policy of neutrality towards England, where his merits were recognised in 1882 when he was awarded the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George. Johannes Brand was deeply religious and irreproachable in both public and private life. He was extremely popular with the burghers of the Orange Free State. Brand’s expression “alles zal recht komen als elkeen zijn plicht doet” (all will be well if everyone does his duty) has entered the Afrikaans language as a well-known and often used saying. After his death a statue funded by public subscription was erected in Bloemfontein. The main road in the Bloemfontein city centre was named “President Brand” in his honour.