Commentary Magazine


Topic: Black Sash

The Un-Goldstone

Richard Goldstone, the former judge for apartheid South Africa (should that not be his lifelong description?), pleads that he was simply following the law when he handed out death sentences and orders to whip blacks. He had no choice, you see. What was a lawyer to do? Well, we are presented with the alternative today. A sharp-eyed reader spots an obituary for Sheena Duncan that explains her role in the South African legal system:

Sheena Duncan, who led the Black Sash, a group of middle-class white women in South Africa who protested against apartheid and counseled blacks victimized by the racist laws of that era, died Tuesday at her home in Johannesburg. She was 77. …

Over decades of volunteer work — counseling thousands of black South Africans, plotting legal strategy, writing pamphlets, holding silent vigils and speaking out in churches and at universities — Mrs. Duncan moved far beyond the traditional sphere reserved for white women of her day.

She helped people whose families were being torn apart by laws that kept black workers in the cities to serve whites while exiling their kin to impoverished rural “bantustans,” or homelands. She invited those who sought her advice to sit on the same side of the desk with her as she pored over their identity documents, especially the books blacks were required to carry to prove they were authorized to be where they were. With no formal legal training, Mrs. Duncan became an authority on the notorious pass laws, which governed the movement of blacks. She sent people with a chance of successfully challenging them to the Legal Resources Center, a human rights organization that took on such cases with financial support from American foundations and South African corporations.

So a housewife with no legal training managed to do heroic work, combating rather than facilitating the apartheid regime’s legal structure. How much more could a trained jurist like Goldstone have done? We don’t know, for he chose a different course, one of sniveling servility to a noxious legal system. That he now seeks to serve new masters at the UN – equally noxious and devoted to the delegitimization of the Jewish state — should therefore not surprise us. Goldstone is not one to buck the system. He has been and remains a self-promoter whose career advancement depends on victimizing others, be they South African blacks or Jews. You’d have to go back to the 1930s to find a more venal example of the misuse of legal training.

Richard Goldstone, the former judge for apartheid South Africa (should that not be his lifelong description?), pleads that he was simply following the law when he handed out death sentences and orders to whip blacks. He had no choice, you see. What was a lawyer to do? Well, we are presented with the alternative today. A sharp-eyed reader spots an obituary for Sheena Duncan that explains her role in the South African legal system:

Sheena Duncan, who led the Black Sash, a group of middle-class white women in South Africa who protested against apartheid and counseled blacks victimized by the racist laws of that era, died Tuesday at her home in Johannesburg. She was 77. …

Over decades of volunteer work — counseling thousands of black South Africans, plotting legal strategy, writing pamphlets, holding silent vigils and speaking out in churches and at universities — Mrs. Duncan moved far beyond the traditional sphere reserved for white women of her day.

She helped people whose families were being torn apart by laws that kept black workers in the cities to serve whites while exiling their kin to impoverished rural “bantustans,” or homelands. She invited those who sought her advice to sit on the same side of the desk with her as she pored over their identity documents, especially the books blacks were required to carry to prove they were authorized to be where they were. With no formal legal training, Mrs. Duncan became an authority on the notorious pass laws, which governed the movement of blacks. She sent people with a chance of successfully challenging them to the Legal Resources Center, a human rights organization that took on such cases with financial support from American foundations and South African corporations.

So a housewife with no legal training managed to do heroic work, combating rather than facilitating the apartheid regime’s legal structure. How much more could a trained jurist like Goldstone have done? We don’t know, for he chose a different course, one of sniveling servility to a noxious legal system. That he now seeks to serve new masters at the UN – equally noxious and devoted to the delegitimization of the Jewish state — should therefore not surprise us. Goldstone is not one to buck the system. He has been and remains a self-promoter whose career advancement depends on victimizing others, be they South African blacks or Jews. You’d have to go back to the 1930s to find a more venal example of the misuse of legal training.

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