Rivonia trial

In 1951 he joined the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) and later in 1954 he joined the ANC. During the Congress of the People he was a branch delegate at Kliptown. From 1958 to 1960 he was an ANC stalwart and in 1961 he was among the first to be sent for military training outside the country. On his return in 1963 he was arrested after state witnesses told the court that he was one of the people responsible for recruiting and training an armed force. He was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island. Mlangeni was however released when negotiations between the ANC and the government began.

Before the court passed judgment on him, Mlangeni told the court that:

“Though leaders of many countries throughout the world have tried to persuade the Government to abandon its apartheid policy, and although resolutions have been passed in the United Nations against South Africa, this has met with no result. 

All that the Government has done is to reply to the people’s demands by putting their political leaders in gaol, and breaking up families”

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 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
  • Billy Nair
  • 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.

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 in Johannesburg`s Fort prison serving a five-year sentence for inciting workers to strike and leaving the country illegally, 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 in accordance with international laws on terrorism. 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 under pressure he agreed to testify for the prosecution but never did; he managed to escape and 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.

Andrew Mlangeni

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