The Rivonia Trial: 1963-1964
Follow our timeline of events from the Rivonia Trial, 50 years later.
Between 1963 and 1964 ten ANC leaders were tried for 221 acts of sabotage designed to overthrow the apartheid system. Known as the Rivonia Trial, it was named after the Johannesburg suburb where 19 ANC leaders were arrested at Liliesleaf Farm. Eight defendants, including Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu, were sentenced to life imprisonment.
@RivoniaRaid will provide a limited real-time tweet service, offering a timeline of events from the Rivonia Trial, 50 years later.
The 11 accused appear at The Palace of Justice in Pretoria (pictured left), in connection with 222 acts of sabotage committed between 10 August 1961 and 5 August 1963.
They are: Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Denis Goldberg, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Lionel "Rusty" Bernstein, Raymond Mhlaba, James Kantor (brother-in-law of Harold Wolpe), Elias Motsoaledi, Andrew Mlangeni and Bob Hepple.
Arthur Goldreich and Harold Wolpe who had been detained aren't in the dock as they had escaped from jail on 11 August after bribing a guard. Goldreich was arrested at Liliesleaf, Wolpe on the border trying to escape.
The government has taken advantage of 90 days without trial, with defendants held incommunicado. Lawyers are able to see the accused only on 7 October.
Leading the defence team is Bram Fischer, assisted by Joel Joffe, Arthur Chaskalson, George Bizos and Vernon Berrangé. A separate team including Harold Hanson and Harry Schwarz defend Kantor (Hanson only comes in right at the end of the trial).
The presiding judge is Dr. Quartus de Wet, judge-president of the Transvaal. The chief prosecutor is Dr. Percy Yutar, deputy attorney-general of the Transvaal.
The first trial indictment document lists 11 names as the accused. Counsel for the accused successfully challenges the legal sufficiency of the document.
Justice de Wet postpones the case to 29 October for the defence to study the indictment. Two organisations are also charged: James Kantor and Partners and the National High Command.
29 October 1963:
"The Rivonia Trial - the trial of 11 men and two organisations the State alleges plotted sabotage as part of a plan for a revolutionary take-over of the country started today with applications to quash the indictment." From The Star, 29 October 1963
Charged with 235* acts of sabotage, defence attorneys Bram Fischer and George Lowen (for James Kantor) attempt to have the indictment quashed.
*As per Joel Joffe's account in The State vs Nelson Mandela p.41
30 October 1963:
It is announced that Bob Hepple will be called as a state witness, and charges are withdrawn against him. He is subsequently released.
The indictment against the remaining 10 is quashed. They are immediately rearrested.
Tuesday 12 November 1963:
A new indictment splitting the sabotage charges against the Rivonia Trialists into two parts is presented by Percy Yutar.
Charge One: alleges that they are guilty of sabotage in that they had recruited people for training in the manufacture and use of explosives for the purposes of committing acts of violence and destruction; also the act of warfare, including guerrilla warfare, and military training generally - for the purpose of causing a violent revolution. Furthermore that they had committed 153 acts of sabotage.
Charge Two: the same as Charge One and further recruitment and further acts of violence similar to those listed - but adds a charge of conspiracy to commit acts of guerrilla warfare, acts of assistance to foreign invading forces and acts of participation in violent revolution within the country.
Charge Three: a contravention of the Suppression of Communism Act, lists the commission of the same acts listed in Charge Two.
Charge Four: a contravention of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, alleges the accused solicited, received and paid out money for the purpose of committing sabotage in support of a campaign against some of the country's laws.
Harry Schwarz, a well-known politician, has stepped in to act as James Kantor's defense in the trial. After being the subject of vicious taunting and many attempts to place him as a vital cog of MK by Yutar, finally James Kantor & Partners are no longer charged. 'Accused No 8 has no case to answer' - Judge Quartus de Wet.
The case is postponed to 25 November.
Monday 25 November 1963:
The 199 acts of sabotage are reduced to 193. The defence applies to have the new indictment quashed.
Tuesday 26 November 1963:
Justice De Wet dismisses the application to quash the new indictment and the trial proper is due to start tomorrow.
Wednesday 27 November 1963:
"After an unsuccessful application on behalf of the prisoners in the Rivonia trial, the trial proper is due to start today." (From the Rand Daily Mail, 27 November 1963).
Without opposition from the state the trial is postponed until Tuesday 3 December after Kantor's new defence JF Coaker asks for time to prepare.
Tuesday 3 December 1963:
The Rivonia Trialists plead not guilty to the charges.
"Evidence of a machine in a windowless room at the Rivonia house occupied by Arthur Goldreich, connected to an underground cable and operated by a non-White wearing headphones, was given at the start of the Rivonia trial yesterday in the Pretoria Supreme Court." (from the Rand Daily Mail, 4 December 1963).
Covers of the actual trial document folder. Picture: NASA.