Joel Joffe

The Joffe Charitable Trust was founded in 1968 by Joel and Vanetta Joffe.

Joel was a remarkable man who dedicated his life to the cause of justice and helping others. As a young South African lawyer, Joel chose to represent Nelson Mandela and nine other defendants in the historic Rivonia Trial in 1963/4. This experience changed Joel’s life, working with the two people who became his heroes: Nelson Mandela and Bram Fischer.

Memories of Mandela

By Joel Joffe, 2017

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Joel’s heroes: Nelson Mandela and Bram Fischer

Nelson Mandela‘s story is well known, as a towering figure in twentieth century history who ultimately led the overthrow of South Africa’s monstrous apartheid regime. Joel was deeply proud of having worked for and with Mandela, against the white oppression that he personally could have benefitted from.

Bram Fisher is less known, as Mandela’s lead advocate. Joel also came to love him. Bram was born into Afrikaaner aristocracy and became Chair of the Bar Council. It is said he could have become Prime Minister. But instead he chose to fight his own government. Covertly, Bram became Chair of the illegal South African Communist Party. He was arrested, and, in an astonishing act of solidarity, gave up his privileged life to go underground in South Africa for nine months. Eventually he died in jail in 1975.

Mandela recognised that his legal team helped to save his life, and did so much to support the struggle. He wrote about both Joel & Bram:

About Joel: “We have come to admire and respect this quiet, courageous man, whose devotion to the cause of justice has been .. in the very highest tradition of his calling.”

About Bram: “Bram … followed the most difficult course any person could choose to follow. [He] showed a level of courage and sacrifice that was in a class by itself. I fought only against injustice not against my own people.”

Joel & Bram were lawyers in an unjust world. They were driven by two questions that still apply today. First, were they happy with their society as they found it? Second, what could they do to improve it, in pursuit of justice?

In the years that followed, many others would come to agree with Mandela’s admiration of Joel.

In 1965, Joel moved to the UK and then co-founded Hambro Life Assurance, which became Allied Dunbar and then part of Zurich. In the following 50 years, Joel was highly influential in the British charity sector.

A champion of philanthropy

Joel championed effective philanthropy. During his lifetime, his Trust gave away about £15m. He was a trailblazer for corporate philanthropy at Allied Dunbar, founder of the 1% Club and chair of the Giving Campaign.

Joel blazed a trail in his charitable work with companies, charities, parliament and community groups. More than just a funder, he was a friend and mentor to charities large and small. Literally dozens of charities simply would not exist today without his support and encouragement.

Joel became a trustee of Oxfam GB in 1980 and was chair from 1995-2001. He was chair of at least five other charities, trustee of another seven and patron of at least 19. As well as work on international development, South Africa and mental health, he took a particular interest in supporting his much loved adopted home town of Swindon.

Joel was made a life peer in 2000 and worked in parliament to promote humane laws for assisted dying.

Joel’s method was to encourage and support others to do extraordinary things for public benefit. Through this, his work improved the lives of millions of people in the UK, South Africa and elsewhere.

After Joel died in 2017, Vanetta became Honorary President of the Joffe Charitable Trust. We were deeply saddened by her death in November 2023. She and Joel had an exceptional bond, forged in their shared experiences in South Africa.