Christopher Nicholson

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Person.png Christopher Nicholson   FacebookRdf-icon.png
(Judge, author)
Christopher Nicholson.jpg
Bernt Carlsson: "the real target" of Pan Am Flight 103?
Born Christopher Robert Nicholson
5 February 1945
Alma mater University of Natal

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, Christopher 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

Christopher Nicholson has written a number books that reflect his other interests:[14]

  • Permanent Removal: Who Killed The Cradock Four? (2004) – Nicholson documents the cover-up and subsequent exposure of the murder of four anti-Apartheid activists, "The Cradock Four", in the Eastern Cape.[15]
  • Papwa the Pariah: Golf in Apartheid's Shadow (2005) – A biography of Papwa Sewgolum, a South African golfer of Indian descent who, on account of the colour of his skin, had to receive the trophy for winning the Natal Open Golf Tournament in the rain as he was refused admission to the whites-only clubhouse.[16]
  • Richard and Adolf: Did Richard Wagner Incite Adolf Hitler to Commit the Holocaust? (2007) – Nicholson investigates the degree to which Richard Wagner's anti-semitic views might have influenced Adolf Hitler.[17]


A Document by Christopher Nicholson

TitleDocument typePublication dateSubject(s)Description
Document:Lucky Escapees from Pan Am Flight 103Article20 October 2018Pik Botha
Mats Wilander
Pan Am Flight 103/Cover-up
Bernt Carlsson
Theresa Papenfus
Gerrit Pretorius
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."


  1. Document:Lucky Escapees from Pan Am Flight 103
  2. Prakash Naidoo (19 September 2008). "Grounded in principle". Financial Mail. Retrieved 7 December 2010. 
  3. "Christopher Nicholson". CricketArchive. Retrieved 5 November 2008. 
  4. "Judge Chris Nicholson". Our writers. Futerman, Rose & Associates. 2010. Retrieved 29 July 2011. 
  5. "North Eastern Transvaal v South African Universities, 22 January 1967,". CricketArchive. Retrieved 5 November 2008. 
  6. Chris Merrett (5 May 2010). "Aurora Cricket Club". Pietermaritzburg Local History. Retrieved 8 December 2010. 
  7. Fiona Forde (21 September 2008). "The man who brought down the president". Cape Argus. Retrieved 7 December 2010. 
  8. Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma vs National Director of Public Prosecutions, 8652\08 (High Court of South Africa, Natal Provincial Division 12 September 2008).
  9. David Beresford (21 September 2008). "Mbeki is forced out after split in ANC". The Observer. Retrieved 7 December 2010. 
  10. "Judge Nicholson red-carded by SCA"
  11. "Zuma Judgment"
  12. "Judge Nicholson releases findings". Supersport. 9 March 2012. Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  13. Judge Chris Nicholson (7 March 2012). "Cricket Final Report" (PDF). Durban and Pretoria. 
  14. Margaret von Klemperer (21 February 2007). "The composer and the dictator". The Witness. Retrieved 7 December 2010. 
  15. "Book Summary of Permanent Removal: Who Killed The Cradock Four?". Retrieved 8 December 2010. 
  16. "Papwa Sewgolum Golf in Apartheid's Shadow – description". World Power Books. Retrieved 8 December 2010. 
  17. "Richard and Adolf: Did Richard Wagner Incite Adolf Hitler to Commit the Holocaust? – Editorial Reviews". Amazon books. Retrieved 8 December 2010. 
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