Voice to the voiceless
Felicia Kentridge: 1930-2015
Johannesburg-born Felicia Kentridge died at her London home – aged 84 – on June 7 this year after a long illness. In 1952, she married Sydney Kentridge, already admitted at the Bar and known as counsel for the defence in many famous political trials.
Felicia obtained her Bachelor of Laws in 1953 from Wits University and was admitted to the Johannesburg Bar in 1956. During the 1960s, she had a private law practice and in the 1970s persuaded the Wits law faculty to set up a legal clinic, which offered free services to the disenfranchised during apartheid.
In 1979, after initiating discussions with activists and legal professionals, she co-founded the Legal Resources Centre, a public-interest law firm, with fellow advocate the late Arthur Chaskalson. Lady Felicia provided legal assistance to clients, appeared on their behalf in court, raised funds for the centre and ran training programmes. The centre represented victims of brutal apartheid crimes and exposed the vicious oppression in the country.
Late former president Nelson Mandela described Felicia as a “voice to the voiceless”. She took up a position on the Legal Resources Trust and was its chairperson for a number of years. Felicia was instrumental in setting up the Southern Africa Legal Services and Legal Education Project in the US to aid South African lawyers who fought against the unjust rule of law during apartheid.
In 1981 she and her husband moved to London, where he was practising at the Bar, and she commuted between London and Johannesburg, eventually settling there permanently.
After Sydney’s knighthood in 1999, the General Council of the Bar began an annual grant, the Sydney and Felicia Kentridge Award, for service to the law in southern Africa. In later years, Felicia became a painter. Almost 36 years since its inception, Felicia’s vision for the Legal Resources Centre – to contribute to the human rights of all individuals – continues in a democratic South Africa. She leaves behind her husband, four children, nine grandchildren and a great-grandchild.