Rivonia trial prosecutor dies

Percy Yutar, most prominent in the public eye during the early 1960s as a State prosecutor in the now-famous Rivonia Treason Trial, has died aged 90 in Johannesburg.

Yutar was born in 1911 in Cape Town, attended Maitland Public School and then the University of Cape Town (UCT).

He graduated from UCT in 1931 with a BA Law degree and in 1938 became the first student to obtain a Masters degree from UCT.

He was admitted to the Bar in 1934 and was then employed by the Post Office to trace defaulting telephone subscribers after being refused employment in the justice department—the government at that time being pro-Nazi and anti-semitic.

He was finally accepted by the department in 1937 as a clerical


Yutar later cited then secretary for justice Hansie van Rensburg’s instruction that his ancestry be traced to ascertain whether his parents were Jewish or not as the point at which he decided to remain in government service and to become the country’s first Jewish attorney general.

From then on he rose rapidly in state service and in 1940 he was

appointed chief crime prosecutor in Johannesburg, became deputy

attorney-general of the Transvaal in 1960, the attorney-general of

the Orange Free State in 1968 and later the attorney-general of the

Transvaal until his retirement from government service in 1976.

He achieved his goal of overcoming the anti-semitism of the Nationalist government he once feared and won their approval. This is most obvious in then minister of justice Jimmy Kruger’s description of him as “the official with the highest sense of loyalty” he had ever found in a public servant.

But this pro-apartheid stance also brought him much criticism from those who said his position amounted to advocating criminal governance for professional and personal gain.

Yutar married Cecilia Fainfinger in 1948 and has one son, David.

He is also remembered by the South African Jewish community for his leading role in Jewish synagogue life.
- Sapa

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