Obituary: Mike Imber

2009-06-22 00:00

KWAZULU-NATAL’S former “gentleman” attorney­ general, Mike Imber, SC, was a popular boss, was soft-spoken and a “kind” human ­being, but he also had occasion to be tough when he headed the province’s prosecution service during an era that was fraught with political pressure.

Imber was appointed attorney general of Natal in 1984 and remained in the post until he retired on September 30, 1992.

Following his retirement, he sat as an assessor in criminal trials in the High Court from time to time.

Imber died peacefully in Pietermaritzburg on June 13 following a long illness.

One of the last cases he ­prosecuted before his retirement in 1992 was the rather tricky prosecution of the former New Hanover Police Station commander, Brian Mitchell, who was handed 11 death sentences by Judge Andrew Wilson for the 1988 murders of men, women, and children in what was known as the “Trust Feed massacre”.

Mitchell’s sentence was later commuted to 30 years imprisonment, and he was eventually granted amnesty through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

State advocate Rita Blumrick, who assisted in the case along with her colleague, Anthony Irons, said Imber had had no hesitation in stepping in to lead the prosecution as the political temperature rose in relation to the case.

“He always showed great leadership and at the same time you could not wish to meet a kinder or more humane person,” she said.

Another friend and colleague, advocate Eddie Lotz, said Imber was probably “the greatest ­gentleman I have ever had ­the privilege of having as my superior”.

He said Imber was a man who always had time for his “underlings”.

This sentiment has been ­echoed by all the staff members who worked for Imber.

Another indication of Imber’s earlier popularity is a letter from the chief constable of the Durban police department in 1964, who on Imber’s promotion and transfer, wrote that he ­regretted the loss of a “most ­co-operative, able and efficient official who was always willing to solve any problems affecting my department”.

The Trust Feed case was not the only “political hot potato” that Imber dealt with during his reign as AG. He also led the prosecution (assisted by advocate Gareth Leppan) against a member of the KZN legislature, KZN deputy minister of the interior, Bekisizwe Samuel Jamile, and Msizi Hlophe who faced multiple murder charges linked to a political struggle between the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the United Democratic Front (UDF) in Clermont, Durban, during 1990.

Imber, however, preferred to avoid the media spotlight and was never keen to feature in ­interviews.

His personal hobby was to dabble in homeopathy.

Imber was born in Bloemfontein in 1932 and matriculated at Durban High School before completing his law degree at the University of Natal in Durban.

He joined the Department of Justice in 1954 and held posts all over the country including Grahamstown, Cape Town, ­Pretoria and Bloemfontein, where he specialised in commercial prosecutions.

He took silk in 1972, and from 1972 to 1983 he was appointed as deputy attorney general in Natal, also specialising in commercial matters.

He is survived by his wife, ­Hazel, to whom he was married for 45 years.

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