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Sir Bob Hepple

The Order of Luthuli in

Sir Bob Hepple Awarded for:
His bravery in the times where fighting for liberation was courting danger. He chose to align himself with the marginalised to ensure that all who live in South Africa enjoy the privilege of equality.
Profile of Sir Bob Hepple

Sir Bob Hepple was born in Johannesburg on 11 August 1934. He was raised in turbulent times in a politically and socially divided society. He grew up in a country that was under the intense scrutiny of international political pressure groups and various human rights organisations. Sir Hepple, unlike many in South Africa during the 50s and 60s, refused to be carried along in the inevitable maelstrom of events.

Sir Hepple is one of the outstanding cadres of the ‘50s and the ‘60s in the struggle against apartheid oppression. He is one of the best human rights lawyers who shared the trenches of the struggle with stalwarts such as former President Nelson Mandela, Bram Fisher, Walter Sisulu and many others.

In 1952 he was arrested while he was the chairperson of the Student Liberal Association. He was put on trial under the Illegal Squatting Act for organising a political meeting in Orlando Township under the pretext of a concert. Although it was illegal for white people to spend the night in “black” areas at the time, all the students, including Hepple, were acquitted of the charge.

His arrest was not well received in the white community. Although the University of Witwatersrand considered itself a liberal institution in the face of oppressive political forces, radical students thought otherwise. Sir Hepple ran afoul of three eminent Afrikaans scholars who made life uncomfortable for him. Later he and his fellow African National Congress (ANC) sympathisers had a narrow escape from rustication by the then University Principal for organising protests over the exclusion of black students from the Wits Great Hall. All these indignities and injustices were fuel to Sir Hepple’s conviction to oppose any sense of social inequality as he pursued his LLB degree from 1955 to 1957.

In 1962, Sir Hepple, who was only 28, was thrown into the spotlight of a politically charged occasion when Mandela’s attorney, Joe Slovo, was prevented by government from representing Mandela. At the eleventh hour they transferred the trial from Johannesburg to Pretoria, to where Slovo was banned from travelling. Mandela turned to Sir Hepple for legal guidance. Sir Hepple had helped Mandela evade capture by organising safe houses and holding secret meetings in his own home.

The scrutiny from government police eventually led to Sir Hepple moving to London in the United Kingdom (UK) where he continued to pursue his legal studies and joined Academia as a lecturer at Cambridge University for 26 years, University College of London for 11 years, Chairperson of Industrial Tribunals for five years, University of Nottingham for two years, and the University of Kent for a year.

Sir Hepple founded a Canon Collins Educational Trust for Southern Africa in the UK. The trust funded and assisted with the education of most of the exiles from Namibia and South Africa, particularly from the ANC. He played a role of a guardian to many South Africans at Cambridge University, where he was himself the Rector of Clare College, one of the 31 Cambridge University colleges.

He retired from his Cambridge Chair in 2001 and the Mastership of Clare in 2003.

He was knighted in 2004.