Harry Snitcher was born on 10 May 1911 in Uniondale. His early schooling was in Uniondale and then in Gouda. After the premature death of his father in 1924, the young Snitcher and his four brothers and sisters came to Cape Town.
His mother kept the family together by renting out rooms, in their house, to boarders, in Gympie Street, Woodstock. Thus she was able to manage send Snitcher to the South African College School (SACS). Snitcher taught English to foreigners to assist the family with additional income.
He matriculated at 15 years of age in 1926, and went on to read law at the University of Cape Town, graduating with a BA LLB in 1931, six months before his twenty-first birthday, resulting in his having to wait before he could be admitted to the Bar on 11 May 1932.
He, Sam Kahn and Morley Turner were members of the National Liberation League (NLL) Executive in 1937.He had an intuitive gift in pitching his questions or his argument at his fellow human beings. He appeared professionally in many important political cases of the day.
He served on the Central Committee of the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) until 1948. Snitcher stood for Parliament three times as a CPSA candidate and lost on each occasion.
He was a founder member of the League against Fascism and War and campaigned actively against the right wing Francisco Franco (of Spain) in the public marketplaces. In 1946, along with other members of the Central Committee, he was arrested and charged with sedition.
In 1947, he was tried for sedition and acquitted. The trial delayed his application for silk by a year, and left him with an abiding memory, he would confide of the essential terror and loneliness of the criminal dock.
For him virtue did not lie in any party rosette. About his own beliefs, he would only say that it was the age when he believed with H G Wells and George Bernard Shaw that a better society could be achieved through communism.
In 1951, the National Party-majority Parliament in separate sessions removed coloured voters in the Cape Province to a separate voters roll. In the matter of Harris and Others v Minister of the Interior and Another (unreported), the Cape Provincial Division led by De Villiers CJ held that the Act was lawful and enforceable. On appeal, the Appellate Division (AD) under Centlivres CJ overturned the decision and set aside the entire Act (Harris and Others v Minister of the Interior 1952 (2) SA 428 AD).
In order to overcome the effect of this decision, Parliament then legislated for a ‘High Court of Parliament’ which, on application by a Minister, could review the declaration of invalidity of the Act by the AD. The High Court of Parliament overturned the decision of the AD (the first Harris decision) and held that the entrenched sections could be amended by means of an ordinary majority. Again, the matter went to the CPD when Harris and his co-applicants asked for an order declaring Act 35 of 1952 to be invalid and of no legal force and effect. The CPD agreed with the applicants, and so did the AD (Minister of the Interior v Harris and Others 1952 (4) SA 769 AD). Snitcher QC, acted for appellants in the Harris decision, and many another similar cause celebre.
Snitcher’s political life brought him into contact with people like Dr A. Abdurahman, Cissy Gool and the young intellectuals of Trafalgar High School grouped around Ben Kies, then a teacher and later an advocate.
He also built up a magnificent personal collection of South African art. He was always a “Cape man”, with a fierce attachment to the city, and a great pride in the retainer he held to represent it.
At a formal dinner held in Cape Town on 7 August 1992 members of the Bench and the Bar paid tribute to Harry Snitcher QC on the occasion of his 60th anniversary at the Cape Bar. He was a member of the Bar Council and President for various terms, for an almost uninterrupted period of 20 years from 1950 to 1970. Mr Justice Tebbutt, who proposed one of the toasts to Snitcher, said that the most outstanding quality of Snitcher was his ability to always express credit to people where others would wish to denigrate.
Van Schalkwyk SC, on behalf of the Cape Bar, endorsed the attributes of his esteemed colleague as a master of court craft, with the ability to identify the real issue in a dispute; at the same time he was always available to assist colleagues.
Snitcher passed away in 1999.