Remarkable People

ID #5261

Nelson Mandela 3 Arrest, Rivonia Trial and Imprisonment

On 5 August 1962 Mandela was arrested after living on the run for seventeen months and was imprisoned in the Johannesburg Fort. The arrest took place after the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) tipped off security police about Mandela's whereabouts and disguise. He was charged with leading workers to strike and leaving the country illegally. In October 1962 he was sentenced to five years in prison. While Mandela was imprisoned, police arrested prominent ANC leaders at Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia. At the Rivonia Trial they were charged with sabotage (which Mandela admitted) and crimes which were equivalent to treason, but easier for the government to prove. The second charge accused the defendants of plotting a foreign invasion, which Mandela denied.

In his statement from the dock at the opening of the defense case on 20 April 1964, Mandela laid out the reasoning behind the ANC's use of violence. His statement described how the ANC had used peaceful means to resist apartheid until the Sharpeville Massacre. That event, coupled with the referendum establishing the Republic of South Africa the declaration of a state of emergency and banning of the ANC left them with only one choice – i.e. to resist through acts of sabotage because doing otherwise would be tantamount to unconditional surrender. Mandela explained how they developed the Manifesto of Umkhonto we Sizwe to expose the failure of the National Party's policies. The economy would in turn be threatened by foreigners' unwillingness to invest in the country. He closed by saying: "During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against 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."

Bram Fischer, Vernon Berrange, Harry Schwarz, Joel Joffe, Arthur Chaskalson and George Bizos were part of the defense team. All except Rusty Bernstein were found guilty but they escaped the gallows and were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island where he remained for eighteen years. While in jail, his international reputation grew. However, he performed hard labour in a lime quarry on the island. Conditions were basic – prisoners were segregated by race with black prisoners receiving the fewest rations. Political prisoners were separated from ordinary criminals and received fewer privileges. Mandela describes how, as a D-group prisoner (the lowest classification) he was allowed one visitor and one letter every six months. Letters, when sent, were often delayed and made unreadable by the censors.

Whilst in prison Mandela undertook study with the University of London and received the degree of Bachelor of Laws. He was later nominated for the elected position of Chancellor of the University of London in 1981 but lost to Princess Anne.
In his 1981 memoirs Inside BOSS, secret agent Gordon Winter described his involvement in a plot to rescue Mandela from prison in 1969. The plot was infiltrated by Winter on behalf of South African intelligence, who wanted Mandela to escape so they could shoot him during recapture. The plot was foiled by British Intelligence.

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Last update: 2014-03-30 20:27
Author: Alan McIver
Revision: 1.2

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