“An Act of Defiance”
Meet Bram Fischer
In apartheid-ruled South Africa, Bram Fischer, a renowned lawyer struggles to hide his secret affiliation to the nation’s chief resistance movement as he takes on defending a group of its arrested members, including its leader, Nelson Mandela.
On July 11, 1963 Nelson Mandela and other members of the African National Congress are arrested on a farm in Rivonia, Johannesburg and charged with sabotage and the evidence is overwhelming (blueprints for land mines, communist literature). The white South African lawyer Bram Fischer (Peter Paul Muller) is at first hesitant, but eventually decides to defend Mandela and the other accused. His restraint is not unfounded, because like Mandela he is against Apartheid and was often present at the same farm in Rivonia. Fischer must decide whether to choose for himself and his family or serve the public interest. The leaders of the resistance against the South African apartheid regime are caught red-handed and captured and tried in the so-called Rivonia process. Bram Fischer is their lawyer during this process and he, himself, is a member of the resistance group and only by chance was not in Rivonia at the time of the arrest.
Director Jean Van de Veldes rushes through the opening of his film and we never really get to know Mandela, Fischer and the others thus causing something of an apathetic feeling for what we see on the screen. This is especially true in the scenes with Fischer’s family. Proudly the film opens with the claim that it is true to the facts. That may well be true, but a film must above all bring history to life. Nobody wants to have a cold-blooded history lesson for two hours. History must feel lifelike on that big cinema screen and Bram Fischer ultimately does not. It does not help that the outcome of the lawsuit is general knowledge, so there is never any real tension. Van de Veldes film is extremely solid and honest, but in no way exceptional. Perhaps the filming of Mandela’s three-hour speech would have been a better idea?
Everyone knows of Nelson Mandela, but who knows the lawyer who saved him from the death penalty in 1963? Internationally Bram Fischer has been granted that recognition. Bram Fischer deserves a lot of admiration. He did not belong to the oppressed black part of the population but to the privileged white part. However, we learn that his father was a high judge and his grandfather was prime minister of Orange Free State. His wife Molly Krige (niece of Jan Smuts, general in the Boer War) came from prominent Afrikaner families. In 1995, Nelson Mandela expressed his admiration for Bram Fischer: “Fischer was one of the most prominent Afrikaner family, he gave up a life of privilege, rejected his heritage. , and was ostracized by his own people, showing a level of courage and sacrifice that was in a class by itself “.
Fischer was to a degree Jewish and this is fact that we need to know more about. The solidarity between the anti-apartheid fighters and the Communists was evident. According to the government of South Africa, the anti-apartheid fighters were manipulated by the Communists. In 1963 the cold war was still in full swing and both America and the Soviet Union tried to expand their sphere of influence, often making use of local contradictions. Although Bram Fischer has remained virtually unknown outside his homeland, his name deserves to be immortalized. In fact, without Bram Fischer, Nelson Mandela might never have achieved his hero status. Bram Fischer is not only known as a lawyer, but also as a civil rights activist. In the 1940s, he became the leader of the Communist Party SACP, which worked closely with the ANC. After the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, where thousands of black citizens demonstrated against the Passing Act, both organizations were banned and went underground with the fight against Apartheid and for the equality of the black majority.
Support came from the Soviet Union and Cuba, communist countries that wanted to assert their sphere of influence in the independence-seeking southern part of Africa. It is Bram Fischer’s job to protect the ten accused from the death penalty.
The film is on the one hand a courtroom drama and on the other hand a portrait of a lawyer who grows into a key figure in the anti-apartheid movement, but at the same time plays with fire because he is still actively involved in the underground resistance.