William Henry Frankel (Order of the British Empire)
The Order of Luthuli in
Profile of William Henry Frankel
William Henry Frankel was born on 14 December 1944 in Johannesburg. He studied at the University of Cape Town (UCT) where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Law. It was during his law studies at the UCT that Frankel became gravely concerned at the widespread human-rights violations in South Africa, perpetuated by the government. He became heavily involved in initiatives aimed at opposing apartheid. The state security forces threatened to detain him and he decided to leave South Africa for Britain, where he continued his anti-apartheid struggle.
In the beginning of 1966 Frankel and others were approached by Canon John Collins, the founder of the International Defence and Aid Fund for South Africa (IDAF), to assist with developing a strategy that would ensure that the government-banished IDAF continues its work of assisting political detainees with legal costs and welfare for their families. Frankel, known only as “Mr X”, spent 25 years as IDAF’s secret legal adviser centrally involved in overseeing and secretly channelling funds towards legal assistance of political activists.
As the IDAF became heavily involved in funding trials of political detainees, Frankel was among the leading legal minds that developed appeal strategies in cases where death sentence was imposed.
Frankel, along with others in the IDAF, raised millions of rand across the world to ensure that the IDAF did not run out of money and therefore cease to provide funding for political trialists. The IDAF funded the legal costs of virtually every trial of anti-apartheid activists, something that indicates quite clearly the organisation’s commitment to the principle of human rights and freedom.
Former President Nelson Mandela referred to Frankel as a “veteran of the Struggle’’, something that underpins the salience of the role that Frankel played in the fight against apartheid. Mandela acknowledged the IDAF as having provided light and hope where there was none. Frankel’s commitment to South Africa and the country’s people did not end with the abolition of apartheid.
He went on to be centrally involved, and in many instances established numerous educational foundations that have contributed hugely in aiding the process of rebuilding South Africa. In most instances this was by providing tuition money for South African students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
In recognition of his contribution to the fight against apartheid, the Queen of England honoured Frankel by bestowing him an OBE in her Millennium Honours list for services to human rights, with particular emphasis on his anti-apartheid work in South Africa.
In 2014 the UCT Vice Chancellor honoured Frankel with the Vice Chancellor’s Silver Medal in recognition of “… his tireless work in the fields of education, human rights and constitutionalism and his ongoing support of many worthy causes through his philanthropy, which continues to have a far-reaching and profound impact both in South Africa and further afield”.