Browde, legal and communal giant, passes on
In the course of a legal career stretching over more than half a century, he acted for various anti-apartheid activists, including Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo and was a founding member of Lawyers for Human Rights. His Jewish communal involvement included serving for 25 years as national president of Habonim.
Browde was born in Johannesburg in 1919. After obtaining a BA from Wits University, he commenced his law articles at his brother’s Johannesburg firm Mendelow and Browde. At the end of May 1940, soon after the fall of France, he enlisted in the Union Defence Force and spent the next five and a half years as an officer in the South African Artillery.
He served in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia), North Africa and Italy, and took part in some of the fiercest fighting in the latter theatre, from the battle of Monte Cassino through to the final surrender of the German forces at the end of April 1945.
After the war, Browde continued his studies at Wits, where he first met Mandela, a fellow law student. The two men established a warm and enduring friendship, one interrupted by Mandela’s 27 years of imprisonment but renewed soon after his release.
In the 1950s, Browde appeared, on both occasions successfully, for Oliver Tambo to apply for his admission as an attorney, and for Mandela & Tambo when attempts were made to evict them from their offices because they were in “white Johannesburg”. Shortly after becoming president, Mandela appointed Browde to investigate irregularities in the appointment of certain public servant posts during the transition to the country’s democracy.
Browde was appointed a Senior Counsel in 1969. He went on to serve as an acting justice in South Africa and as a judge on the Appeal Courts of Swaziland and Lesotho. He was a founder member of Lawyers for Human Rights when it was established in 1980 and was its chairman from 1983-1993.
During this period, which included several years under the State of Emergency, the organisation was active in publicising human rights abuses and confronting such abuses through litigation.
In July 2008, Browde was presented with the Sydney and Felicia Kentridge Award for Service to Law in Southern Africa. Speaking on that occasion, former Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson commented that what made Browde special was “his integrity, his commitment to the Bar as an institution, his values rooted in his respect for the dignity of all persons, and his public commitment to the struggle for a better life for all”.
In addition to being renowned for his skill as a trial lawyer, Browde was also a famed raconteur. Many of his stories, which have become well-known in legal circles and beyond, have been recorded by his grandson, Daniel, who is currently preparing them for publication under the title A Few Trees: Stories My Grandfather Told Me.
Browde is survived by Selma, his wife of nearly 70 years, and sons Ian, Allan and Paul.
Professor Selma Browde also achieved considerable eminence, both in her profession as a senior radiation oncologist at the University of the Witwatersrand and Johannesburg group of hospitals and as an anti-apartheid activist, including being the only Progressive Party member of the Johannesburg City Council.
She and Jules were joint recipients of the SA Jewish Report’s Helen Suzman Lifetime Achievement Award in August 2011.