Quartus de Wet

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Quartus de Wet
Judge President of the Transvaal Provincial Division of the Supreme Court of South Africa
In office
Personal details
Born(1899-03-10)10 March 1899
Pretoria, South Africa
Died18 December 1980(1980-12-18) (aged 81)
RelationsNicolaas Jacobus de Wet (father)

Quartus de Wet (10 March 1899 – 18 December 1980) was a South African judge who served as Judge President of the Transvaal Provincial Division of the Supreme Court of South Africa.

Born in 1899 in Pretoria, he was the son of Nicolaas Jacobus de Wet, Chief Justice of South Africa and acting Governor-General, and Ella Scheepers (his first wife), who is reputed to have composed the popular Afrikaans song Sarie Marais during the Anglo-Boer War.

He obtained a law degree in 1922 and was admitted as an advocate (the South African equivalent of a barrister) to the bar of Pretoria the same year. He became a judge of the Transvaal Provincial Division in 1950, and he became the Judge President in 1961.

He is famous for presiding over the 1963 Rivonia Trial of Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists. During the Rivonia Trial, de Wet sentenced Mandela and other anti-apartheid activists to life imprisonment, instead of a possible death sentence, for sabotage as a result of the trial, and he noted as he passed sentence:

The crime of which the accused have been convicted, that is the main crime, the crime of conspiracy, is in essence one of high treason. The state has decided not to charge the crime in this form. Bearing this in mind and giving the matter very serious consideration I have decided not to impose the supreme penalty which in a case like this would usually be the proper penalty for the crime, but consistent with my duty that is the only leniency which I can show. The sentence in the case of all the accused will be one of life imprisonment.[1]

De Wet retired in 1969; he did not (unlike the prosecutor, Percy Yutar) live to see Mandela's release in 1990.


  1. ^ Long Walk to Freedom, available: "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 23, 2013. Retrieved August 11, 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)