Devikarani Priscilla Jana was born on 5 December 1943, in Westville, Natal, to a middle class Indian family.[i] From an early age Jana developed an awareness of the unequal society she was born into, stating in her book Fighting for Mandela, ‘everyone who wasn’t white was suffering’.[ii] This conscientization was nurtured early in her life by her father, a school teacher, who challenged social injustices, whether these related to Apartheid or to the Indian caste system. [iii]  The family was constantly uprooted because of her father’s political activity.[iv]

 From 1960 she attended Durban High School[v] and in September 1963 she commenced tertiary education at the Sophia College for Women in Breach Candy, Bombay India.[vi]  Although she had initially planned to study medicine at the Sophia College, following her marriage to her first husband, Reg, Priscilla decided that law was what she really wanted to do. She initially commenced her law degree through the University of South Africa (Unisa)[vii] , but went on to become a full-time law student at the University College for Indians on Salisbury Island, off the Durban coast, where she was the only female in her class.[viii]

In 1974 she graduated with a degree and completed her articles at the law firm of Ismail Ayob in Johannesburg.[ix] As a human rights attorney her clients ranged from society’s most economically downtrodden to many noted political figures. In addition to her own life experiences, through her activities as a human rights lawyer she saw the brutality of Apartheid first hand and became determined to fight this hated system by joining an underground African National Congress (ANC) cell. [x]

She went on to become the personal attorney of Nelson Mandela and, as such, was one of very few South Africans to have had unique access to Mandela during his incarceration on Robben Island. It has been said of Jana that ‘at one stage, she represented every single political prisoner on Robben Island.’[xi]

Jana lived to see the dawn of a democratic South Africa and served as a member of parliament and South African Ambassador to both the Netherlands and Ireland. She has recorded details of her extraordinary life and her courageous role in fighting the hated system of Apartheid, in Fighting for Mandela.  In this book she poignantly writes, ‘My entire adult life has been dedicated to dismantling the apartheid system and attempting to replace it with something wholesome and good for all South Africans. I cannot regret one minute of it.’[xii]


[i] Priscilla Jana, Fighting for Mandela, The explosive autobiography of the woman who helped to destroy Apartheid (London: John Blake Publishing Ltd, 2016) p.4.

[ii] Jana, Fighting for Mandela, p.4.

[iii] Jana, Fighting for Mandela, p.5.

[iv] Jana, Fighting for Mandela, pp.5-7.

[v] Jana, Fighting for Mandela, p.8.

[vi] Jana, Fighting for Mandela, p.11.

[vii] Jana, Fighting for Mandela, p.19.

[viii] Jana, Fighting for Mandela, p.20.

[ix] Jana, Fighting for Mandela, p.32.

[x] Jana, Fighting for Mandela, p.99.

[xi] Book Lounge Launch of Fighting for Mandela. Url number Date accessed 22.04.2016.

[xii] Jana, Fighting for Mandela, p.285.

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