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Imprisoned ANC Leader Gets Law Degree

May 17, 1989

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) _ African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela on Wednesday received a law degree he earned through a correspondence course while serving his life prison term.

Mandela, 70, who holds several honorary law degrees, did the course work for his bachelor of laws degree through the University of South Africa, one of the largest correspondence schools in the world.

The degree was awarded in his absence at a ceremony at Cape Town City Hall while Mandela remained incarcerated in a house at the Victor Verster Prison Farm near Paarl, 30 miles to the northeast.

University spokesman Chip Joubert said Mandela was invited but returned the form, saying he would be unable to attend. Joubert said the diploma would be mailed.

Mandela’s name was listed on the eighth page of a glossy program handed to the 1,000 people who attended the graduation, but his name was not read out.

Three bachelor of law degrees were awarded and one recipient, Shaun Sheehan, 30, was present. Sheehan said he had been in the room next to Mandela when Mandela was treated at Tygerberg Hospital last year for tuberculosis. Sheehan said he was ″a bit sad″ Mandela could not attend the ceremony.

Mandela received a bachelor of arts degree through correspondence courses in 1941 and worked as an attorney in Johannesburg through the early 1950s. His law partner was Oliver Tambo, who went into exile when the ANC was outlawed in 1960 and is now president of the guerrilla organization.

An attorney without a law degree can represent clients, advise them, take care of legal documents for them, file suits and the like, but cannot argue before the high courts where most major cases are decided.

A bachelor of laws degree would allow Mandela to become an advocate and argue major cases before the regional Supreme Courts if he were not in prison.

Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in 1964 for sabotage and conspiracy to topple the white-minority government. At the time, he had been in prison for three years for incitement and leaving the country illegally.

Marinus Weichers, head of the department of constitutional law at the university, said Mandela ″is a very good, accomplished lawyer.″

Mandela family friend and biographer Fatima Meer said Mandela had difficulty getting the right reference books and had to study under trying circumstances. ″The fact that he has accomplished his LLB degree is an indication of the capacity he has to cling on to hope,″ she said.

″Very few people have that kind of faith and the ability to transform that gift into reality. That is the reason why we want him out, and that is the reason why we want him to head the country.″

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