The Rivonia trial
Nick Bezuidenhout, Die Burger
Johannesburg - The Rivonia trial and
Nelson Mandela are synonymous.
At this 1964 trial he and seven members of the African National Congress were jailed for life on charges of sabotage committed by, among others, the newly formed military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK).
Mandela, accused number one, was the commander of MK at the time some of the sabotage was committed.
The trial, which lasted from October 1963 to June 1964, was called the Rivonia trial because it began with a police raid on the farm Liliesleaf, in Rivonia, north of Johannesburg.
Mandela had earlier hidden there with the assistance of
Arthur Goldreich, a sympathiser who rented the farm.
Goldreich was also arrested during the raid but he and three others managed to bribe a warder and flee the country.
He said he was no communist
The State's charge sheet named the farm as the headquarters of MK. Mandela said during the trial that this wasn't true of the time he'd lived there. But he had heard that the South African Communist Party (SACP) approved of his activities there.
At the time of the raid and during the trial, Mandela was already serving another sentence. He had been arrested shortly after his return to South Africa in July 1962 and sentenced to five years in jail for leaving the country illegally in January 1962; and for inciting people to strike when South Africa became a Republic at the end of May 1961.
The acts of sabotage with which he and his co-accused were charged included the very first operation by MK on December 16 1961. Government buildings in Johannesburg, Durban and Port Elizabeth were attacked. The charge sheet included 193 acts of sabotage.
Mandela denied MK involvement in deeds which endangered human lives, because this wasn't MK policy.
In his historic opening statement for the defence, he explained the reasons for MK's involvement in other acts of sabotage.
Mandela explained how the ANC decided that the peaceful and constitutional way to freedom was no longer feasible on its own.
He quoted from MK's manifesto, which had been issued on the day of its first acts of sabotage:
"The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices - submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defence of our people, our future, and our freedom".
"I can only say that I felt morally obliged to do what I did," Mandela said afterwards.
The State also alleged that the aims of the ANC and the SACP were identical. Mandela denied this and said he was not a communist himself.
Prepared to die for his beliefs
He said the two organisations worked together because they wanted to end white domination, but their theoretical basis and goals differed. The ANC, for example, was not a socialist organisation.
"Theoretical differences amongst those fighting against oppression is a luxury we cannot afford at this stage. What is more, for many decades communists were the only political group in South Africa who were prepared to treat Africans as human beings and their equals; who were prepared to eat with us; talk with us, live with us, and work with us," he said of co-operation between the ANC and the SACP.
Mandela ended his opening statement with the words:
"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.
"I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."