Rivonia 1

December 14 2013

Nelson Mandela’s speech from the dock on April 20 1964 at the opening of the defence case in the Rivonia Trial is full of history. I’ll give it in full over the next few posts and add links and explanations. Links to South African History Online work slowly, but work.

His statement (and the rest of the trial?) was recorded on dictabelt and eventually digitised with the help of the British Library. The digital version, I presume complete, is in the custody of the National Archives of South Africa.

YouTube (below) has the last half-hour of three hours. The full recording may be online elsewhere.

There are differences between transcriptions online, coming either from mistranscriptions of the recording or from inaccurate printed versions.

For example, many have, near the beginning: “I must deal immediately and at some length with the question of violence.” The Nelson Mandela Foundation has: “I must deal immediately and at some length with the question of sabotage.” I have quoted the Foundation text, which is based on the digital recording.

Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi, Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada and Denis Goldberg were convicted on June 11 1964 and were sentenced to life imprisonment.

The first seven spent most of their incarceration on Robben Island. Goldberg spent his at Pretoria because Robben Island was reserved for African, Coloured and Indian prisoners.

On August 11 1963 Arthur Goldreich, Harold Wolpe, Abdulhay Jassat and Moosa “Mosie” Moolla, also arrested, escaped from Marshall Square Prison in Johannesburg by bribing a guard and fled the country.

Apartheid as an official policy was introduced after the general election of 1948, when the National Party under Daniel François Malan, a Dutch Reformed cleric, ousted the United Party and Jan Smuts.

South Africa went into isolation as a republic (and Mandela went underground) just as the colonial age was ending in most of Africa. It emerged as soon as the Cold War had ended. To what extent did the Cold War sustain apartheid?

Reading Mandela’s speech reminds one of the clarity of his mind and prompts the depressing thought that, for all the heroism of the South African struggle, and notwithstanding the role of the Dutch Reformed Church, bigotry is overcome comparatively easily where religious feeling isn’t intense.

In 1964 Arnold Toynbee was a sponsor of the Defence and Aid Fund, a London-based support group for black South Africans which had its origins in the 1956 Treason Trial.

List of anti-apartheid activists.

On this site:

Mandela timeline

South Africa and the Balkans.

3 Responses to “Rivonia 1”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Long Walk to Freedom is well-written. The uncredited collaborator was Richard Stengel, a university contemporary of mine. Mandela was lucky to have him.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    Was Mandela’s most glorious moment the 1995 Springbok victory? He made it highly symbolic.

    The soil for Mandela revisionism seems thin, but some will sow seeds in it.


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