Honouring a truly great human being

By Barrie Hudson - 29 October 2021

Arts and Culture
  • Vanetta, widow of Joel Joffe, and daughter Deborah at the unveiling

    Vanetta, widow of Joel Joffe, and daughter Deborah at the unveiling

A poetry column by Maurice Spillane of Poetry Swindon

  • The late Joel Joffe

    The late Joel Joffe

Vanetta, wife of the great Swindonian Joel Joffe, unveiled a memorial to him in the Liddington village hall recently.

Joel lived for several decades in the village. Vanetta gave a moving speech that broke most of us and we’ve spoken about little else since. A walking path by the River Lidd, near where he lived, was named “Joel Joffe Way.” It was also lovely to see his daughter, Deborah, among us again.

Joel was the solicitor behind Nelson Mandela’s legal team during the Rivonia Trial in 1963/4 when the defendants were expected to be hanged. Mandela’s three-hour speech turned the trial by putting apartheid in the dock.

He ended with these words: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together. It is an ideal for which I hope to live and to see realized. But, My Lord, if it needs to be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

The judge was moved to deliver life sentences.

Joel founded Allied Dunbar in Swindon, chaired Oxfam, and Vanetta and he set up a charity that continues to provide. In the House of Lords, he moved an act several times on assisted dying. Such a full and amazing life.

Joel and I had poetry and Africa in common so as a tribute, here’s a poem from those days by South African, Keorapetse Kgositsile. Poetry doesn’t have a date stamp - this poem is just as relevant today:

"If destroying all the maps known

would erase all the boundaries

from the face of this earth I would say let us
make a bonfire
to reclaim and sing

the human person

Refugee is an ominous load even for a child to carry"

Hear Joel on Desert Island Discs: https://www.bbc.co.uk/ programmes/b0084b4l



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