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Sat, 10.07.1911

Lazer Sidelsky, Black South African mentor

Siidelsky with Mandela

Lazer Sidelsky was born on this date in 1911. He was a White Jewish South African lawyer and activist who was a mentor to former South African President Nelson Mandela.

Sidelsky was born in Ermelo, in the former Eastern Transvaal province, where his parents farmed. Like the majority of Jewish families in South Africa, they were refugees from the early 20th-century pogroms in Lithuania and other Baltic States. He graduated in law at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg after helping to finance his studies by playing the violin in a jazz band. His life of activism was directed through his business dealings.

“Laz” Sidelsky’s reasons for financing Black homes were not philanthropic or politically motivated. He was a shrewd businessman and at one stage chairman of the former Union Stock Exchange, but he believed strongly in dealing fairly with people of any color and was appalled at the way in which some big law firms in Johannesburg exploited their Black clients. When he engaged Mandela in his first legal job as an articled clerk he advised him and gave him a suit that he’d wear for the next five years.

In his autobiography “Long Walk to Freedom,” Mandela described Sidelsky as one of the first White people to treat him with respect. Sidelsky lent Mandela money to start his own law firm. Lazer Sidelsky died on May 17, 2002, at 90 years old.

Mandela was shocked to learn of the death of a longtime friend and said, “Sidelsky employed Black people in Johannesburg at a time when the country was in racial turmoil.” Sidelsky was married with two sons and a daughter.

The Associated Press
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