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Encyclopedia > Harold Hanson

Harold Joseph Hanson (1904 - 1973) was an eminent South African Advocate (QC)and Senior Member of the Johannesburg Bar Council. He was born in Johannesburg to Ralph Hanson, a Rand pioneer and Clara Lewis. Harold Hanson first married May Koseff with whom he had a daugher. His second marraige was in 1945 to Anna Marie Berger (known as Anita). They had two daughters and a son. Anita predeceased Harold by 18 years, after which he married Cissie Pincus.

Harold Hanson was educated at Twist Street Government Primary School, Johannesburg and King Edward V11 High School where he passed the Matriculation Exam at the age of fourteen. He studied law at the University of the Witwatersrand and was called to the Bar in 1926 at the age of 22. He subsequently built up a large practice in Johannesburg dealing with civil, criminal and political cases. He was appointed a K.C (later known as Q.C) in 1946.

Harold Hanson was regarded as a very sound lawyer and a brilliant trial advocate. He appeared for the plaintiff, defendant or accused in a number of the most important and lengthy cases in South African legal history. These included action for damages for defamation brought by the founder of the Alexander Technique of Psycho- Physical education against Drs Jokl, Cleaver and Clark (1946-1948); The Parity Insurance Company case (State vs. Heller) in which he defended the accused charged with fraud (1968 -1970) and the Gentrico A.G vs. Firestone SA (Pty) Ltd in what has been called the greatest lawsuit in the 500 year history of patents (1).

He believed strongly in civil liberty and was well known for his support of political defendants, often acting on their behalf without a fee (6). He is perhaps best known for his contribution to the last day of the Rivonia Trial (Friday, June 12 1964) in which he readily accepted a request from his colleague and respected friend Bram Fischer to argue mitigation for the accused (8). Hanson made a brilliant political appeal in a trial of politically inspired offences which in effect pleaded for the lives of the accused (8, 9). He compared the African struggle for civil rights to the early Voortrekker Afrikaner struggle and cited precedents for clement sentencing even in treason cases. Alan Paton, novelist, national president of the Liberal Party, a devout Christian and opponent of violence was called as the only witness. Hanson subsequently acted as counsel for Bram Fischer when he was brought to trial. The Rivonia Trial was an infamous trial which took place in South Africa between 1963 and 1964, in which ten leaders of the African National Congress were tried for 221 acts of sabotage designed to ferment violent revolution. // Origins It was named after Rivonia, the suburb of Johannesburg where 19... Abram Louis Fischer, commonly known as Bram Fischer, (1908-1975) was a South African lawyer of Afrikaner descent, notable for anti-apartheid activism and for the legal defense of anti-apartheid figures, including Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia Trial. ... Alan Stewart Paton (11 January 1903 – 12 April 1988) was a South African author. ... Abram Louis Fischer, commonly known as Bram Fischer, (1908-1975) was a South African lawyer of Afrikaner descent, notable for anti-apartheid activism and for the legal defense of anti-apartheid figures, including Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia Trial. ...

E. Khan (7) writes: “Hanson was big in every way: in intellect, in physique, in voice, in courage, in application, in determination. He was fearless, if ebullient and temperamental, in court. Ever eloquent – his colleagues would speak of “Hansonian eloquence” – he could develop an argument for his client on fact or law at the drop of a hat. In cross-examination he was penetrating and robust, and could be fierce; he had indeed a great reputation as a cross examiner. To counsel on the other side, he could prove an awkward opponent; but no one ever questioned his integrity”.


1. J.R.Steyn, South African Law Journal, 89 1972 p 93

2. The Star Obituary 17.2.1973

3. Sunday Express Obituary 18.2.73

4. Sunday Times Obituary 18.2.1973

5. Rand Daily Mail Obituary 19.2.1973; 20.2.1973

6. Nelson Mandela, The first Bram Fischer memorial Lecture, 9.6.1995

7. E Khan – "Dictionary of South African Biography"(Pretoria; HSRC, 1987)

8. Carmel Rickard, The Trial of the Century. Sunday Times 2.1.2000 [1]

9. Towards Robin Island: the Rivonia Trial [2]



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