Lewis Baker was married to Villa Baker. He was a civil rights lawyer, and a member of the South African Communist Party (SACP). The couple continued their political activities after they were married. During the Second World War they battled the Ossewa Brandwag, an Afrikaner nationalist movement that strongly opposed South Africa’s involvement in World War II and later the National Party under Dr. D. F. Malan.
In 1961 before South Africa became a Republic under the Verwoerd government, a State of Emergency was declared. Lewis went underground for a while. He was subsequently arrested and detained without trial for 90 days, later charged and tried in the Bram Fischer trial.
On 16 November 1964, the trial opened in Johannesburg. Fourteen men and women were charged on three counts under the Suppression of Communism Act””that they belonged to the illegal SACP, that they took part in the activities of the Party, and that they furthered the aims of Communism.
The accused were described as ‘former members of the Congress of Democrats’, not because they resigned from the Congress, but because it was banned by the Nationalist Government in September 1962.
On 2 April 1965, twelve of the accused were found guilty and on 13 April they were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. The case was significant because it was the first case since the Suppression of Communism Act was passed in 1950 that anybody had been either charged or convicted on account of membership of the Communist Party.
Hundreds of people, including many non-Communists, had been convicted under one or other provision of the Act in the preceding fifteen years. Now, for the first time, the State had been able to secure a conviction against people proved to the satisfaction of the court to have been members of the Party and sentenced because they had, as Communists, attempted to ‘replace the present state of the Republic of South Africa by a dictatorship of the working class’.
Baker fifty-four years old was subject to torture at the hands of the Security police and made to stand for seventeen hours. He was sentenced to two and a half years on each of two-counts, two years to run concurrently: a total of three years.
The family lost all they had, status and financially. When his sentence was over and he was released from prison, Lewis was immediately placed under house arrest, banned from practising law, allowed only one visitor at a time, and placed under permanent observation.
The Security Police used to watch their flat from five metres away, always parked outside. Some of the residents of the building wished him `Happy New Year` and the next day when he reported at the police station as usual, he was told he was endangering them and that the Security Branch had further banning orders and would keep on issuing them every five years for ever. He could however leave the country, and go into exile and the Prime Minster John Vorster would not oppose it.
In 1970 the family went into exile in London. Lewis continued his political activities, now as a member of the alliance with the exiled African National Congress (ANC). The privations of prison and treatment he had received at the hands of the security police, the stress caused by the loss of his profession and possessions, and the harsh climate of the United Kingdom took its toll on him.
Baker was struck off the roll of attorneys in 1967 as a result of his membership of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) and his conviction, two years earlier, of contravening the Suppression of Communism Act.
He was posthumously reinstated on the roll of attorneys by the Pretoria High Court on6 September 2005. His name was ordered reinstated on the roll of attorneys and notaries in terms of the Reinstatement of Enrolment of Certain Deceased Legal Practitioners Act of 2002.
The application to have Baker`s name reinstated was brought by his son, Steven Baker. In his affidavit before the court, he said: "I feel that my late father was a true `hero of the people`. He sacrificed all he had worked for in the struggle for a free and democratic South Africa. It is time that the injustices of the past are rectified and the political crimes against him be nullified and his truly good character be acknowledged through his name being reinstated on the roll of attorneys and notaries."