The year was in 1942.

Knock, Knock

Come in Please, said the young man sitting behind the desk. It was a large desk, wooden, elegant and showed distinction and class. Behind it the man was wearing a suit and tie. He seemed kind but hard working.

In came an elegant tall African man. He was wearing old clothes and looked quite ragged.

“Please take a seat, Thank you for coming. Please tell me about yourself.”

I have come from the Transkei, I was working as a night watch men for Crown mines. I lost my job as a night watchman as I didn’t have a pass book.

“I see. What is it that you want to become?”

“I would like to become a lawyer, Sir. I am struggling with funds at the moment?”

The young man sitting across the table looked intently.

Times are bad in this country. Do you know what I think?

“An educated man cannot be oppressed because he can think for himself.

I want  you to work for me.

"It was a Jewish firm, and in my experience I have found Jews to be more broad-minded than most whites on issues of race and politics, perhaps because they themselves have historically been victims of prejudice."

The South African attorney Lazar Sidelsky, who has died aged 90, made significant breaches in the colour bar in South Africa's legal profession. And by employing and mentoring the young Nelson Mandela, he contributed to more widespread change, grounded in the rule of law.

Sidelsky's firm of Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman pioneered the employment of black people, enabling them to be articled and qualify as attorneys, in defiance of practice at the time. In his autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom, Mandela noted that "It was a Jewish firm, and in my experience I have found Jews to be more broad-minded than most whites on issues of race and politics, perhaps because they themselves have historically been victims of prejudice."

Mandela was introduced to the firm in 1942 by Walter Sisulu, with whom he had been working for a real estate company. Sidelsky was 30, a lively, slender, bright-eyed, courteous man with a pencil moustache. He took a genuine interest in his welfare and his future, Mandela recalled, and preached the value and importance of education, arguing that only mass education would liberate the African people.

An educated man, said Sidelsky, could not be oppressed because he could think for himself. He was a patient and generous teacher. The law could be a tool to change society, Sidelsky believed, but he warned Mandela that politics was to be avoided, as a source of trouble and corruption. Yet, at the firm, Mandela was compelled by his senior colleague Nat Bregman to consider what communism had to offer when they went together to mixed-race political meetings.

Mandela considered Bregman his first white friend, but Sidelsky had been the first white man to treat him with respect. When Mandela and Oliver Tambo set up the country's only solely black law practice in 1952, Sidelsky lent them money to do so.

Sidelsky was born in Johannesburg, the son of immigrants who had fled Lithuanian pogroms. The family bought a farm in the eastern Transvaal highveld, and Sidelsky went to school in the town of Ermelo. His father died as Sidelsky was about to begin law studies at the University of the Witwatersrand. So Sidelsky paid his way through university playing the violin and leading Skoenie and his Connecticut Yankees, a jazz band. After daytime lectures, Sidelsky would change into a borrowed tuxedo and walk 10 miles across Johannesburg to a rather rough part of town, where his band performed nightly.

He obtained BA and LLB degrees, and began practising as an attorney. He developed a large practice that granted mortgages for Africans at a time when few firms were prepared to do so. He was a member of the Law Society of the Transvaal for 60 years, continuing to practise until he was 88 years old.

Last year, when Mandela was honoured by the Johannesburg press as "Newsmaker of the decade", Sidelsky was at his side at a banquet in Sandton, Johannesburg. Both men were presented with engraved walking sticks to mark the occasion. Sidelsky is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter.

Lazar Sidelsky, lawyer, born October 7 1911; died May 17 2002


12/17/2017 1:00pm

good post

12/29/2017 5:14am

I hope this is exactly how this person wants to be remembered. It got me now into thinking maybe I should also write my death wishes. We don't know when our time will come. Some are given a few months warning. If you die all of a sudden, how would you want to be remembered. At this point in my life the only thing people know about me is that I am broke and depressed. There is nothing special about that. I should now learn how to think of greater goods so there will be a chance people will remember me for being nice and not just a statistic.

12/18/2017 2:37am

我对这篇文章印象深刻,本页的作者介绍了一些人。 有一个勤劳和其他穷人。 我只想说,在我们需要付出的努力,可以给生活的设施安心生活。

Lazar Sidelsky was a very great man. He served the South African people with all of his heart. He once became a mentor of Nelson Mandela, a former South African president (and the first black African who became the president) who did his best to have an equal rights between races. Sidelsky and Mandela supported the rights of the blacks and the South Africans. It is very sad to know that people like Lazar Sidelsky and Nelson Mandela, who work hard to give all people equal rights, is already dead. Even though they are dead, they still left a legacy that world leaders must continue.

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