The Rivonia trial: For the heroic and unflinching in the face of death - CNBC Africa

The Rivonia trial: For the heroic and unflinching in the face of death


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The Rivonia trial started on 30 October 1963. PHOTO: Getty Images

It was during an event to commemorate the London recruits which was held earlier this year, that Denis Goldberg - a man who served with Nelson Mandela in the Rivonia trial - spoke to told of what he remembered from the trial and why he admired Mandela. 

Goldberg recollects seeing Mandela in Cape Town in 1962, a year before the raid, after Mandela carried out trips to Algeria, Nigeria, Tunisia and Ethiopia in an attempt to acquire support for MK, the military wing of the African National Congress, and to arrange military training for potential recruits. 

“I met him in Cape Town when he came back from his Africa trip and he was telling us in a small, private meeting, of his experience, attitudes and his analysis of the situation. That’s what he’s proved to do. [It’s] remarkable the way that he prepared himself on how to work with others. All the time he was negotiating, he was in contact with Oliver Tambo, he didn’t do it on his own. It’s important to know this,” he said. 

The Rivonia trial took place on 30 October 1963, three months after the raid. The accused were brought before the Supreme Court on two counts of sabotage, which carried the death penalty. 

Madiba, who was already serving a five-year sentence for his role in campaigns intended to disrupt Republic Day celebrations, was on the accused list due to evidence found during the raid linking him to the farm. 

Ten men stood on trial along with Mandela and Golberg, they were: Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mahlaba, Ahmed Kathrada, Lionel Bernstein, James Kantor, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni and they had all pleaded not guilty to the charges. 

Goldberg remembers seeing Mandela in short pants, sandals, leg irons, handcuffs and a prison jacket and recalls how much weight Mandela had lost since he had seen him in Cape Town.

“We make of Mandela some super human being – he’s a very special ordinary guy; very special. And what’s very special about Madiba is his courage. Where he said later in the trial, he’s prepared to die for his beliefs, not many people can do that – it’s inspirational. But his specialty, I think is that he never relied on being the son of a miner chief for his authority. He’s a modern person, he reads, he analyses, and he’s a thinker. The Rivonia trial, for me, was an experience of heroic people, unflinching in the face of death.”