Barney Zackon: Lawyer and activist who fought against apartheid

Barney Zackon was forced into exile in Britain, at 37, at the height of his career as a defence lawyer and political activist in apartheid South Africa. His courageous work as a Cape Town attorney arranging the defence of a flood of African insurrectionists in the critical years after the Sharpeville emergency in 1960 must have been behind the banning order served on him, with no reasons given, by the Justice Minister B.J. Vorster in March 1965.

The Government held all the cards: Zackon found that all too often the security police would simply select one or two accused in a large group and torture them until they agreed to turn state witness. Legal defence, and aid for destitute families, was funded by Canon Collins’s Defence and Aid Fund in London, via its South African counterpart, in which Zackon was active in the Cape. The banning order, under the Suppression of Communism Act, put paid to his legal work and to chairmanship (as a confirmed liberal) of the non-racial Liberal Party of South Africa in the Cape. He had inherited the latter post two years earlier from his banned predecessor and was in the firing line here, too. A Government MP, the guest speaker at a party forum, once taunted him: “How long have you been out of the ghetto?” Legislation brought the party to its end three years later.

Zackon came to England on an exit permit in mid-1966, to be followed by his family when he had found a home and a job. The job was with the solicitor Bernard Sheridan, who did much work for Collins’s Defence and Aid. He later served articles and qualified (with a Distinction in Land Law) as a solicitor in 1972. His firm, Zackon and Gilroy, was active in North London until 1991. Many clients became his friends and he and his wife Daphne, also an active Liberal in South Africa, retained their old political circle, formed during the bleakest days of apartheid. Gregarious, with a ready laugh and a love of cigars and good cognac, he was also happy to lead a quiet family life, with his books and visits fromfriends. A childhood polio victim, he remained physically active and was a strong swimmer. His last years were spent in the shadow of a long illness, bravely borne.

Randolph Vigne

Barney Zackon, lawyer, anti-apartheid activist: born Cape Town 6 August 1927; BA LLB University of Cape Town; attorney, Cape Town; Cape Province chair, Liberal Party of South Africa, 1963; South African Defence and Aid officer; solicitor in England, 1972-91; married 1949 Daphne Israel (two sons, one daughter); died London 25 May 2009.

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