Rivonia Trial

Rivonia Trial

The Rivonia Trial was a trial that took place in South Africa between 1963 and 1964, in which ten leaders of the African National Congress were tried for 221 acts of sabotage designed to "ferment violent revolution" [http://observer.guardian.co.uk/mandela/story/0,8224,436395,00.html] to overthrow the apartheid system.


It was named after Rivonia, the suburb of Johannesburg where 19 ANC leaders were arrested at Liliesleaf Farm, privately owned by Arthur Goldreich, on 11 July 1963. It had been used as a hideout for the African National Congress. Among others, Nelson Mandela had moved onto the farm in October 1961 and evaded security police while masquerading as a gardener and cook called David Motsamayi (meaning "the walker").


Arrested were:

* Walter Sisulu
* Govan Mbeki
* Raymond Mhlaba
* Andrew Mlangeni
* Elias Motsoaledi, trade union and ANC member
* Ahmed Kathrada
* Denis Goldberg, a Cape Town engineer and leader of the Congress of Democrats.
* Lionel "Rusty" Bernstein, architect and member of the Communist party
* Bob Hepple
* Arthur Goldreich
* Harold Wolpe, prominent attorney and activist
* James "Jimmy" Kantor, brother-in-law of Harold Wolpe

and others.

Goldberg, Bernstein, Hepple and Goldreich were white Jews, Kathrada was Indian, and Sisulu, Mbeki, Motsoaledi and Mhlaba were Xhosa (black).

The trial was essentially a mechanism through which the apartheid government could hurt or mute the ANC. Its leaders, including Nelson Mandela, who was already serving a five-year sentence on Robben Island for leaving the country without a passport, were prosecuted, found guilty, and imprisoned. The apartheid regime's attack on the ANC's leadership and organizers continued with a trial known as Little Rivonia, in which other ANC members were prosecuted for their anti-apartheid activities. Amongst the defendants in this trial was the chief of MK, Wilton Mkwayi who was sentenced to life imprisonment alongside Mandela and the other ANC leaders on Robben Island.

The government took advantage of 90 days without trial, and the defendants were held incommunicado. Meanwhile, Goldreich and Wolpe bribed a guard and escaped from jail on 11 August. Their escape infuriated the prosecutors and police who considered Goldreich to be "the arch-conspirator."

Lawyers were unable to see the accused until two days before indictment on 9 October. Leading the defence team was Bram Fischer, the distinguished Afrikaner lawyer, assisted by Harry Schwarz, Joel Joffe, Arthur Chaskalson, George Bizos and Harold Hanson. At the end of October, Hepple was able to leave the dock because he had agreed to testify for the prosecution; later he managed to flee the country.

The presiding judge was Dr. Quartus de Wet, judge-president of the Transvaal.

The chief prosecutor was Dr. Percy Yutar, deputy attorney-general of the Transvaal.

The trial began on 26 November 1963. After dismissal of the first indictment as inadequate, the trial finally got under way on 3 December with an expanded indictment. Each of the ten accused pleaded not guilty. The trial ended on 12 June 1964.

List of defendants

* Nelson Mandela
* Walter Sisulu
* Govan Mbeki (father of Thabo Mbeki, former President of South Africa)
* Raymond Mhlaba
* Elias Motsoaledi
* Ahmed Kathrada
* Denis Goldberg
* Andrew Mlangeni
* Wilton Mkwayi
* Lionel "Rusty" Bernstein (acquitted)
* Harold Wolpe
* James Kantor

Defence Barristers

*Harry Schwarz
*Arthur Chaskalson
*Bram Fischer
*Joel Joffe


Charges were:

* recruiting persons for training in the preparation and use of explosives and in guerrilla warfare for the purpose of violent revolution and committing acts of sabotage
* conspiring to commit the aforementioned acts and to aid foreign military units when they invaded the Republic,
* acting in these ways to further the objects of communism
* soliciting and receiving money for these purposes from sympathizers in Algeria, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, Tunisia, and elsewhere.

"Production requirements" for munitions for a six-month period were sufficient, the prosecutor Percy Yutar said in his opening address, to blow up a city the size of Johannesburg.

Kantor was discharged at the end of the prosecution's case.

The trial was condemned by the United Nations Security Council and nations around the world, leading to international sanctions against the South African government in some cases.


* Arthur Goldreich and Harold Wolpe escaped from The Fort prison in Johannesburg while on remand after bribing a prison guard. After hiding in various safe houses for two months they escaped through Swaziland dressed as priests with the aid of Manni Brown who posed as a tour operator as a cover to deliver weapons to the ANC.

* Wolpe's escape saw his brother-in-law James Kantor arrested and charged with the same crimes as Mandela and his co-accused. Harry Schwarz who was a friend of his acted as his defence. After being the subject of vicious taunting and many attempts to place him as a vital cog of MK by Percy Yutar, finally Judge Quartus de Wet discharged him, stating Accused No 8 has no case to answer. Kantor fled the country and died of a massive heart attack in 1975. His health never recovered from the harsh treatment while in prison awaiting trial.


Originally the death penalty had been requested, but was changed because of world-wide protests and skilled legal maneuvers on the part of the defence team. Eight defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment; Lionel Bernstein was acquitted.

: [http://www.anc.org.za/ancdocs/history/trials/toward_robben_island.html] "There was no surprise in the fact that Mandela, Sisulu, Mbeki, Motsoaledi, Mlangeni, and Goldberg were found guilty on all four counts. The defense had hoped that Mhlaba, Kathrada, and Bernstein might escape conviction because of the skimpiness of evidence that they were parties to the conspiracy, although undoubtedly they could be prosecuted on other charges. But Mhlaba too was found guilty on all counts, and Kathrada, on one charge of conspiracy. Bernstein, however, was found not guilty. He was rearrested, released on bail, and placed under house arrest. Later he fled the country."

Denis Goldberg went to Pretoria Central Prison instead of Robben Island (at that time the only security wing for white political prisoners in South Africa) where he served 22 years.

Nelson Mandela would spend nearly thirty years in prison as a result of the trial. He was released on 10 February 1990 by President F.W. de Klerk.

See also

* Little Rivonia Trial
* Treason Trial

External links

* " [http://www.observer.co.uk/mandela/story/0,8224,436395,00.html The Rivonia Trial] " - article by Sunder Katwala from "The Observer", dated Sunday, February 11, 2001
* [http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/about/warwickmagazine04/mandela/ Liliesleaf Farm in South Africa]
* [http://www.anc.org.za/ancdocs/history/trials/toward_robben_island.html ANC history]
* [http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleid=275302 On the trail of Mandela's handgun]

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