Christopher Nicholson

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Person.png Christopher Nicholson   FacebookRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(Judge, author)
Christopher Nicholson.jpg
Bernt Carlsson: "the real target" of Pan Am Flight 103?
BornChristopher Robert Nicholson
5 February 1945
Alma materUniversity of Natal
Retired South African High Court Judge

Christopher Nicholson is a retired South African High Court Judge and a former cricketer, who played one first-class match for the South African Universities cricket team in 1967. He attained prominence as a judge when he ruled that the South African Government had tampered with the evidence in the case against Jacob Zuma, an act that led to the resignation of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki.

On 20 October 2018, Judge Nicholson published an article in the Saturday Star analysing in forensic detail claims that former foreign minister Pik Botha – who died on 12 October 2018 – had been booked to travel on the doomed Pan Am Flight 103 which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland on 21 December 1988, but had instead taken an earlier flight the same day from Heathrow to New York. Nicholson concluded his analysis by asking whether UN Commissioner for Namibia Bernt Carlsson "was not the real target of those who put the bomb on Pan Am 103."[1]

Early life and sporting career

Christopher Nicholson was born 5 February 1945 on a farm near Richmond, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and educated at Michaelhouse and at the University of Natal where he read law.[2] He is a cousin of the brothers Peter and Graeme Pollock who played Test cricket for South Africa, and is a brother to Ravenor Nicholson, another first class cricketer[3] and is also a cousin of the writer Alan Paton.[4]

Nicholson represented the South African Universities against North Eastern Transvaal as a right-hand off spin bowler and a left-handed batsman. He took 3 for 58 in the match and batting at number 9, scored a total of 17 runs.[5]

By the time Nicholson left university, the question of racial segregation in South African sport had led to South Africa's exclusion from the Olympic Games and in 1968 the English cricket team withdrew from a tour of South Africa due the South African government's objection to the inclusion of Basil D'Oliveira, a South African born coloured player who had emigrated to the United Kingdom to play professional cricket. In 1971, leading South African cricketers left the field in a token protest against Apartheid during a match to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Republic of South Africa.

In 1973 Nicholson was among the founders of the Aurora Cricket Club – a mixed race club that applied for affiliation to the Maritzburg Cricket Union (MCU) and for inclusion in the all-white local cricket league. The club's inclusion in the league was supported by the Natal Cricket Association, and refused to be bullied by intimidatory police tactics such as taking the names of players and spectators – after each match the club voluntarily handed the police a list of all players.[6]

Legal Resources Centre

In 1979 Nicholson, following on the efforts of Arthur Chaskalson in Johannesburg, founded the Durban chapter of the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) to assist those who could not afford advice or legal representation. One such case was the 1984 challenge he successfully brought against the pass laws, which were intended to restrict "idle and undesirable" people to rural confines. In another case in 1986 his name was closely associated with Archbishop Denis Hurley's case against the minister of law and order when he turned the internal security laws on their head by challenging the right to detain for purposes of interrogation.

By the end of that decade the challenge had begun to take its toll. Exhausted, and diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, Nicholson resigned from his position at the LRC and took up a lecturing post at the Durban campus of the University of Natal where he taught evidence, civil procedure and professional practice. The slower pace of life in academia allowed him to spend time following his other pursuits – music and sport and to recover his health.[7]

Advocate and Judge

In the early 1990s he left the university and took silk, enabling him to become a judge. He was appointed to the bench in 1995, one of the first in post-Apartheid South Africa. He was later appointed to the Labour Appeal Court, and later became senior judge on the Natal bench. In 2006 he found the government to be in contempt of court over the provision of antiretrovirals for prisoners at Westville Prison and in mid-2008 he ruled against the Erasmus Commission, set up by Ebrahim Rasool to probe allegations of bribery in the City of Cape Town, finding that the former premier had abused his provincial powers.

Jacob Zuma was the deputy president of South Africa, leader of the African National Congress and poised to succeed Thabo Mbeki as President of South Africa. He was dismissed as deputy president by Mbeki in June 2005 when his financial advisor Schabir Shaik, was convicted of corruption and fraud. Zuma was subsequently charged with corruption by the National Prosecuting Authority. On 28 December 2007, after various procedural delays the Scorpions (a government anti-corrpution and anti-fraud investigation branch) served Zuma an indictment to stand trial in the High Court on various counts of racketeering, money laundering, corruption and fraud. Zuma appealed against the charges and on 12 September 2008 Nicholson held that Zuma's corruption charges were unlawful on procedural grounds. In his judgment, Nicholson also wrote that he believed that there was political interference in the timing of the charges being brought against Zuma.[8] Although this was initially denied by Mbeki, Mbeki was forced to resign on 20 September 2008.[9]

Nicholson's ruling dismissing the charges against Zuma was unanimously overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeal, in a ruling which was critical of Nicholson's judgement in the case, including his addition of personal opinions to the ruling, and of including "gratuitous findings" about Mbeki and others in his judgement.[10][11]

After Nicholson retired, he headed a commission appointed by Fikile Mbalula, South African Sport and Recreation Minister, that investigated the affairs of the South Africa's national cricketing body Cricket South Africa (CSA). The investigation was triggered by a report from KPMG, the federation's auditor that a bonus of Rand 4.5 million (about GBP 400,000 or $700,000) had been paid to CSA's chief executive Gerald Majola without the knowledge of the federation's remuneration committee. The commission found that Majola had breached the South African Companies Act at least four times and recommended that both the SCA and the South African Revenue Service should consider taking further action. The commission also recommended a restructuring of CSA's structure.[12][13]

Books written by Nicholson

Chris Nicholson's play "Justice is a Woman"

Following his retirement to pursue a writing career, Christopher Nicholson published six books,[14] of which the first two ("Permanent Removal: Who Killed the Cradock Four?" and "Papwa Sewgolum: From Pariah to Legend") were nominated for the Alan Paton prize for non-fiction.[15]

Nicholson has also written a courtroom drama titled "Justice is a Woman" which was performed at Grace College, Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal in May 2019[16] and at the Hexagon Theatre in Pietermaritzburg in June 2019.[17]

This fascinating book reads like a novel and gave me a totally new insight into a genius but to my mind mad composer, and the ghastly Hitler, putting them into historical perspective and making me see their world in a new light- and wondering what would have happened if Hitler had not found Wagner and his music as a young man. Nicholson's theory is most interesting.[19]

Magnum opus

In January 2023, Chris Nicholson completed his seventh book which is entitled "Slain Heroes", a magnum opus comprising 58 thoroughly researched and well-written chapters on high-profile assassinations that took place during the South African apartheid era. Each chapter marshalls the facts, provides much-needed context and brings fascinating new insights into the state-sponsored slaying of Steve Biko, Bernt Carlsson, Ruth First, Dag Hammarskjöld, Chris Hani, Anton Lubowski, Samora Machel, Olof Palme, Jeanette Schoon, Dulcie September, The Cradock Four, Abram Tiro and David Webster:

1. Bloody Easter Saturday
2. Chris Hani - The best President SA never had
3. The trial and appeal
4. Arthur Kemp
5. Six similar sinister scandals
6. Conspiracy raises its ugly head
7. The plunder of Africa
8. Who Stole South Africa?
9. Murder of a marine biologist
10. The attempted invasion of Seychelles
11. The murder of Dag Hammarskjöld
12. Operation Celeste
13. The highly secret organisation Le Cercle
14. Who Killed Swedish PM Olof Palme?
15. The land God made in anger
16. Diamonds in the desert
17. Enter the Oppenheimers
18. A feisty judge
19. Tsumeb and tax evasion
20. Follow the Yellow Cake road
21. Anton Lubowski
22. Diamonds are SWAPO
23. Pan Am 103
24. One blue and one green eye
25. A very secret meeting
26. Lucky Escapees from Lockerbie Flight
27. Craig Williamson
28. More Williamson victims
29. Prophets of doom
30. The most diabolical aspect of Apartheid
31. The sterilisation programme and the 'black bomb'
32. Foreign assistance in the AIDS
33. SAIMR and the AIDS war
34. 'Dr' Maxwell returns to South Africa
35. Maxwell's vision of saving the world
36. Alexander Jones bares his soul
37. Julian Ogilvie Thompson and Anglo American
38. The progress of AIDS throughout the world
39. Incentivising the decision makers
40. Georgiadis and F W de Klerk
41. Teflon Man - the charmed life of Fana Hlongwane
42. The British bribes Basil Hersov
43. John Bredenkamp and Richard Charter
44. More German Bribes
45. Avoiding Nuremberg trials
46. Bribing the black elite
47. The Hani Memorandum
48. General Tienie Groenewald
49. Negotiations in the 1980s
50. Links that stink
51. The owner of the BMW
52. Chris Hani returns to South Africa from exile
53. Inside job
54. Tito Maleka
55. Sleaze balls
56. The final piece in the jigsaw
57. Final reckoning on liability
58. The nemesis of docility
List of authorities

Guy Rose, Nicholson's literary agent in London, is arranging for "Slain Heroes" to be published early in 2023.


A Document by Christopher Nicholson

TitleDocument typePublication dateSubject(s)Description
Document:Lucky Escapees from Pan Am Flight 103Article20 October 2018Bernt Carlsson
Pik Botha
Pan Am Flight 103/Cover-up
Mats Wilander
Theresa Papenfus
Gerrit Pretorius
Roland Darroll
Jeremy Shearer
In this article, Judge Nicholson analyses in forensic detail conflicting claims that former foreign minister Pik Botha had been booked to travel on the doomed Pan Am Flight 103 which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, on 21 December 1988. The Judge's analysis concludes by asking whether UN Commissioner for Namibia Bernt Carlsson "was not the real target of those who put the bomb on Pan Am 103."


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