November 11, 2014 —As South Africa marks its 20th anniversary of democracy, it continues to wrestle with the brutal legacy of apartheid and the challenges of transition. This talk with South African lawyer Andrea Durbach was followed by a screening of the award-winning documentary A Common Purpose— based on her book—which tells the story of one of the largest death penalty cases in legal history. The documentary follows Durbach as she returns to post-apartheid South Africa to meet her clients from the landmark Upington 25 trial. In 1985, when apartheid was at its most violent, a black policeman was burned to death and 25 people were convicted of his murder under the common purpose doctrine; 14 of Durbach’s clients were sentenced to hang. The film, directed by Australian filmmaker Mitzi Goldman, portrays the legal complexity of a notorious trial that marks South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy. This lecture was co-hosted by the USC Institute for Global Health, Program on Global Health & Human Rights and the International Human Rights Clinic at the USC Gould School of Law.
Professor & Director
Australian Human Rights Centre
The University of New South Wales, Sydney
Andrea Durbach is the director of the Australian Human Rights Centre and a professor of law at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Born and educated in South Africa, she practiced as a political trial lawyer and human rights advocate, representing victims and opponents of apartheid laws. In 1988 she was appointed solicitor to 25 black defendants in a notorious death penalty case in South Africa and later published an account of her experiences in Upington (Allen & Unwin 1999) (short-listed for the Alan Paton Award).
After leaving South Africa in 1989, Andrea worked as a solicitor at Freehills Hollingdale and Page in Sydney in their industrial law and commercial litigation departments and in 1991, she joined PIAC as Assistant Director, establishing and becoming co-ordinator of its Public Interest Clearing House in 1992 and Head of Legal Practice in 1994. She was appointed PIAC’s Director in 1997. While at PIAC she participated in the development of major PIAC and PILCH projects, including the Homeless Persons Legal Service, a proposal for a national Stolen Generations Reparations Tribunal and the establishment of the National Pro Bono Resource Centre. She initiated a number of amicus curiae interventions in key public interest cases and developed and taught a winter and summer school intensive course for final year law students, Practising in the Public Interest.
Andrea has been a part-time member of the Administrative Decisions Tribunal (Legal Services Division) and part-time commissioner of the NSW Law Reform Commission. She is a Foundation Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law and is currently a member of the board of the NSW Legal Aid Commission, the editorial board of the Australian Journal of Human Rights and the Advisory Council of Jurists of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions.
Andrea was appointed part-time Deputy Sex Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission from 2011-2012.
About the Film
A Common Purpose is a documentary by Mitzi Goldman that traces the notorious death penalty trial of the “Upington 25”—25 black defendants accused of murder— during the most violent period of the apartheid regime in South Africa. The course of the trial reveals one of legal history’s most significant cases on the death penalty and leads to the assassination of one lawyer and the exile of the young solicitor Andrea Durbach. This documentary follows Durbach’s return to South Africa to meet her clients 18 years after the trial and examines how the trial and the transition to a democratic South Africa has since shaped their lives. It is an inspirational story of persistence and personal courage, the power of the belief in the rule of law and the costs and triumphs of seeking justice in an unjust political and legal system.