Hoffman, Leonard (1 of 10) National Life Story Collection: Legal Lives

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  • Recording date

    2011-10-12, 2011-10-18, 2011-11-02, 2011-11-22

  • Interviewees

    Hoffman, Leonard 1934- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Brodie, Louise (speaker, female)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: LH was born on 8 May 1934 in Cape Town. They were living in Van Rhynsdorp 200 miles north of CT where his father was the local solicitor and his mother was the Jewish shopkeeper’s daughter. Description. LH had a brother born six years later when they had moved to Cape Town. His parents had no interest in practising as Jews but went to the synagogue for the important festivals. His father was quiet and kindly, and had a reputation for being a good lawyer. Stories of childhood. [8:06] They moved to Cape Town in 1939. They lived at first in a boarding house in Gardens in the centre of the city. During the war it was interesting because of all the ships coming through the port. It was exciting. Schooling. He went to a Dame school at first and then to South African College School, SACS, junior and high school, in the Gardens. LH protested about being put into the bottom form, as he found the work childish. He found school dull. [15:56] LH used to come home from school and he was friendly with Albie Sachs, later member of the ANC. He was a lonely child. His parents were keen on playing bowls and had their own friends. [18:21] The house they bought in Gardens, was quite small with a corrugated iron roof. Then later they bought one in Oranjegezicht. He got on all right with his brother but they were not close. Their circle was all Jewish and his father was an enthusiastic Zionist. The synagogue in Gardens was designed by Sir Herbert Baker. Some of their friends went to fight in the war. They were all volunteers. [23:34] The Nationalists came to power in 1948. LH had no feeling at the time about the iniquity of the situation. He was not very good at sport. When it came to his second last year at school, the problem of his being so young became acute and he repeated his 9th form. He was then with a different lot of children, including Albie Sachs, who introduced him to Beethoven which was an opening cultural experience. AS also gave him classical novels. Story. [30:06] He went to Cape Town University and started going to parties. In his second year, January 1952, he met his future wife. He was very taken with Gillian. They got married. She was dark, Jewish and kind. They used to go to the cinema, the Old Vic company came out, they went to parties. [35:53] LH took a general degree, always intending to take law later. It was assumed he would take law and he slipped into it. Economics was an eye opener. It was the first time he realised that something you have been taught can be wrong. It was an important moment of scepticism. LH enjoyed Latin too. In 1953 they had a festival in Rhodesia to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of Cecil Rhodes in Bulaweyo. Details of events. It was a great experience, a great revelation. Hitchhiking was quite practical in those days. While they were there they went to the Victoria Falls, and he paid £1 to fly over the Falls. The impression he had was that racially it was more relaxed. There were a lot of Rhodesians at Cape Town University. There was quite a strong anti-apartheid movement at university which LH did not take part in. [44:37] His father’s parents were dead when LH was born. This grandfather had come from Riga in the 1890s to Cape Town. One of his mother’s brothers had been at Edinburgh university, a psychiatrist. He was the superintendent of a mental home in Grahamstown. LH went there for the winter holidays on the train. He went alone, two nights and two days, aged ten. Arriving in Port Elizabeth he went to the Palmerston Hotel and ordered breakfast before catching the train again. More on the holidays. [50:37] In 1946 his parents bought a holiday house in Hermanus and he was there at Christmas 1947. The place was bliss. You could fish off the rocks. LH didn’t like them selling it in 1948. Gillian’s family was interesting. Her mother was one of the three daughters of a successful Jewish soft goods merchant, fabrics. They employed travelling salesmen. Gillian’s grandfather had studied at a rabbinical school, then lost his faith. The family was very cultured, listening to Bach after Friday dinner. His name was Samuel Futeran. LH’s mother in law read French at Cape Town University and married a handsome sportsman, Eugene Sterner. Gillian was an only child. [56:28] LH left university at the end of 1953. It had been suggested that he should apply for a Rhodes scholarship. Explanation. You got it substantially on your university record. LH had done well and was awarded one. Rhodes had stipulated that it should also take account of “manly sports”! LH visited Rhodes’s grave in the Matopos which is spectacular. Before going to Oxford in October 1954, LH was engaged as an assistant economics lecturer at Cape Town University. He enjoyed explaining things to people, an early advocacy skill.

  • Description

    Life story interview with the judge Leonard Hoffman, Baron Hoffman (1934-)

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