South Africa: 50th anniversary of Mandela's famous speech

Pretoria, South Africa (PANA) – Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of what has become one of the famous speeches of all time.

On 20 April,1964, a young lawyer named Nelson Mandela delivered a three-your speech in a Pretoria courtroom during his epic treason trial.

The address, which later came to be known as the Rivonia speech, helped shape Africa’s history.  

Living in Johannesburg in the early 1960s, Mandela was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities and, with the African National Congress leadership, was unsuccessfully prosecuted in the Treason Trial from 1956 to 1961.

Although initially committed to non-violent protest, in association with the SA Communist Party, he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961, leading a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government. In 1962, he was arrested and charged with treason.

The anti-apartheid activist, who was facing a possible death sentence along with seven co-defendants, noted that he had fought against white domination, and 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."

The speech – which was inspired by Fidel Castro's "History Will Absolve Me" speech – was widely reported in the press despite official censorship. The speech was critical in that it highlighted to the world why the ANC had moved away from its traditional non-violence stance to violence.

In an interview on national television this week, Nic Wolpe, the CEO of Johannesburg’s  Lilieslief farm where many of the Rivonia trialists were captured, said Mandela’s seering message from the dock was “if you believe what we are doing is wrong, then hang us”.

The prosecution deemed Mandela and his co-defendants violent communist saboteurs.

On 12 June 1964, Judge Quartus de Wet found Mandela and his comrades Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Denis Goldberg, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni and Elias Motsoaledi, guilty of sabotage and sentenced them to life imprisonment.

Apartheid laws dictated that the only white person sentenced, Denis Goldberg, should be held in Pretoria Central Prison. The other seven were sent to Robben Island.

The trial gained international attention, with global calls for the release of the accused from such institutions as the United Nations and World Peace Council. The University of London Union voted Mandela to its presidency, and nightly vigils for him were held in St. Paul's Cathedral, London.

Twenty seven years later, Mandela would walk free and within four years become the first democratically elected leader of South Africa and a moral beacon for all mankind.

The court recordings from that historic trial were stored at South Africa’s Department of Justice until 1994 – the year he became President – when they were released to the National Archives.

It would take another decade for them to be transferred from the obsolete dictabelt recorders to tape with the help of the British Library.

Mandela died at his home in Johannesburg on 5 December 2013.
-0- PANA CU/MA 19April2014

19 april 2014 08:18:37




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