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Mandela and seven colleagues imprisoned

The Story

"Nelson Mandela and seven colleagues face life imprisonment in South Africa." That's the fate of eight African National Congress leaders, tried for 221 acts of sabotage designed to violently overthrow South Africa's apartheid government. The trial lasted eight months and attracted worldwide attention. In this 1964 radio report from CBC National News, reporter Patrick Keatley is in London to explain why the defendants likely avoided a death sentence. "The sentence of life imprisonment is a deft stroke by the nationalist government," he concludes. "Certainly it thrusts aside some of the tremendous world horror and political pressure which otherwise would have immediately built up against South Africa."

Medium: Radio
Program: The CBC National News
Broadcast Date: June 12, 1964
Host: Alex Trebek
Reporter: Patrick Keatley
Duration: 2:58
Photo: Canadian Press

Did You know?

• The Rivonia trial was named after the suburb of Johannesburg where 19 African National Congress leaders were arrested at Liliesleaf Farm on July 11, 1963. Mandela was already in custody, having been sentenced to five years in prison in October 1962 for inciting a workers' strike a year earlier.

• At Liliesleaf, the South African government discovered documents belonging to the group Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), a military wing of the ANC. They described plans for attack and guerilla warfare.

• Several ANC leaders used Liliesleaf as a hideout, and Nelson Mandela himself moved there in 1961. Using the name David Motsamayi (meaning "the walker") he evaded police by masquerading as a cook and gardener. The farm was owned by co-defendant Arthur Golderich, a South African abstract painter and a key figure in the anti-apartheid movement.

• In addition to Mandela, the other ANC leaders charged were Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Elias Motsoaledi, Ahmed Kathrada, Billy Nair, Denis Goldberg, Lionel "Rusty" Bernstein, Bob Hepple, Harold Wolpe, James "Jimmy" Kantor and Golderich.

• This CBC Radio clip notes that six of the defendants were black, but this appears to be incorrect. Goldberg, Bernstein, Hepple and Golderich were white Jews, while Nair and Kathrada were Indian. This leaves five men - Mandela, Sisulu, Mbeki, Motsoaledi and Mhlaba - who were black (specifically Xhosa, speakers of Bantu languages living in southeast Africa).

• Those found guilty on all four counts were Mandela, Sisulu, Mbeki, Motsoaledi, Mlangeni, Goldberg and Mhlaba. Kathrada was found guilty on one count of conspiracy. Bernstein was acquitted but was rearrested, released on bail and placed under house arrest. He later fled the country.

• Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd (mentioned in this clip as Dr. Verwoerd) was prime minister of South Africa from 1958 until his assassination in 1966. He is called the "Architect of Apartheid" because he broadened existing policies that restricted the black Bantu African nationals' mobility while he was minister of native affairs in the early 1950s. In September 1966, he was stabbed four times in the chest by a uniformed parliamentary messenger names Dimitri Tsafendas. The motive for the murder was unclear.

• In this clip, reporter Patrick Keatley likens Mandela's imprisonment to that of Pastor Martin Niemöller in pre-war Germany. Keately says that the world started taking notice what was happening in Germany only after Niemöller was detained. Niemöller was a prominent German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor who initially supported Adolf Hitler, but turned against all forms of Nazism when he co-founded the Confessing Church. Because he spurned state control of churches, Niemöller was imprisoned from 1937 to 1945 in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps. He later regretted not doing enough to help victims of the Nazis and became vocal pacifist and anti-war activist. From 1966 to 1972, Niemöller was vice-chair of War Resisters' International.

• Nelson Mandela was born Rolihlahla Mandela July 18, 1918, in Mvezo, Transkei.  He died at home in Johannesburg on 5 December 2013.


Nelson Mandela: Prisoner, President, Peacemaker more