1963 - 1964

The Rivonia Trial    

Pambili Media

Operation Mayibuye

“The trial that changed South Africa”

The Rivonia Trial was a landmark event in South Africa’s history. Often referred to as “the trial that changed South Africa,” it set off a chain of events that eventually ended apartheid and rang in democracy and freedom from oppression. The Rivonia Trial took place between 1963 and 1964, when 12 members of the African National Congress (ANC) were accused under the 1962 Sabotage Act, with sabotage and attempting to violently overthrow the South African government – crimes that carried the death penalty.

The Liliesleaf Farm Raid

Image of the Liliesleaf farm during the raid, 1963.
Image of the Liliesleaf living room during the raid, 1963.
Storage room at the Liliesleaf farm, a picture of Miriam Makeba on a Coca'Cola ad is visible in the bottom right

It was decided that on the 11th July 1963 it would be the last time they would meet at Liliesleaf. The leadership had been worried for some time that Liliesleaf could be exposed and as such, it was felt necessary to close operations and move to another farm.

Goerge Molebatsi
Govan Mbeki's mugshot taken by the police during the Liliesleaf Farm raid in July 1963
Arthur Goldrich's mug shot taken by the police during the Liliesleaf Farm raid in July 1963
This mug shot of Dennis Goldberg was taken on Liliesleaf farm, during the raid.
Ahmed Kathrada 

The meeting on the 11th was to discuss Operation Mayibuye, the plan to overthrow the Apartheid Government. This plan had been originated by Govan Mbeki and Joe Slovo. It was so secretive that only Nelson Mandela and a handful of his colleagues in the armed wing of the ANC knew of it.

The decision to move to another location had been made too late. South African Police had already received a tip-off that Walter Sisulu would be at Liliesleaf. Walter Sisulu had gone into hiding as a result of a previous conviction. He was facing a five year jail term.

'Kill Goldreich' plot

On the afternoon of the 11th July 1963…

a dry-cleaning and  flower van drove down the dusty farm drive way and stopped just past the Manor and slightly back from the Thatched Cottage. Someone in the Thatched Cottage had just opened the door and noticed the vans. 

As he was about to ask one of the farm labourers about the vehicles, armed policemen burst out of the vans.

From that moment, the 'Rivonia' became synonymous with the silencing of resistance in South Africa. This trial however, sparked global attention.

Hendrik Verwoerd
Led by Getrude Shope and other activists the Rivonia Trial supporters march outside the Palace of Justice
12 June 1964:This series consists of 2 Warrants of Committal issued to Nelson Mandela by the Magistrate's Court of South Africa and the Supreme Court of South Africa. Both warrants contain Nelson Mandela's fingerprints.

The police had found a number of senior leaders of the resistance,in the thatched cottage. Moreover, documents outlining Operation Mayibuye, and the resistance movement's plan for guerrilla warfare in South Africa, were found. All the men were arrested.

Journalists outside court. The whole world was watching when the three major sabotage trials started in Pretoria, Cape Town and Maritzburg. Outside the Palace of Justice during the Rivonia Trial. (Photograph by Alf Kumalo Baileys Archives)
Winnie Mandela captured leaving the Palace of Justice with her mother in law, Both local and international press were present to capture the moment
Winnie Mandela

The police raid on Liliesleaf Farm on July 11th, 1963 was critical.The large number of senior ANC leaders' arrests was a major blow to the movement and the struggle for liberation. However, the subsequent trial, which became known to the world as the Rivonia Trial, finally focused world scrutiny on South Africa and its oppressive regime.

Winnie Mandela captured leaving the Palace of Justice with her mother in law, Both local and international press were present to capture the moment
Outside the Palace of Justice: Pretoria
Winnie Mandela, Nonyaniso Madikizela with Lord Joel Joffe, Defense instructing attorney, captured on the stairs of The Palace of Justice during the Rivonia Trial

Ten of the accused, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Nelson Mandela, Rusty Bernstein, Ahmed Kathrada, Denis Goldberg, James Kantor, Andrew Mlangeni, Raymond Mhlaba and Elias Motsoaledi were tried for 221 acts of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the State.

 The other two accused, Arthur Goldreich and Harold Wolpe escaped before going on trial. 

After a raid by security police at Liliesleaf farm in the Johannesburg suburb of Rivonia in July 1963, many prominent leaders of the ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe were arrested. 

The incident occurred three years after the ANC, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and other liberation movements were banned in April 1960.

The Arrested

Walter Sisulu                Govan Mbeki

Raymond Mhlaba          Andrew Mlangeni

Elias Motsoaledi           Ahmed Kathrada

Billy Nair                      Denis Goldberg

Lionel “Rusty                Bob Hepple        

Arthur Goldreich            Harold Wolpe

James “Jimmy” Kantor

The Defendants 

Nelson Mandela       Walter Sisulu

Denis Goldberg        Govan Mbeki

Ahmed Kathrada      Lionel “Rusty” Bernstein

 Raymond Mhlaba    James Kantor 

Elias Motsoaledi      Andrew Mlangeni

Article by DRUM magazine, 23, January, 1964

In gathering evidence to be used in the trial against the accused, the police were later also able to arrest others, including Dennis Goldberg and Nelson Mandela. At the time of the Lilliesleaf raid, Mandela was serving a five-year sentence for incitement and leaving the country illegally. 

The keystone of the State’s case was a six-page plan of action called “Operation Mayibuye”, which was confiscated during the raid. Operation Mayibuye, in Nelson Mandela’s words, “sketched out in general form the plan for a possible commencement of guerrilla operations, and how it might spark a mass armed uprising” against the South African Government. Bram Fischer led the defense team, which included Vernon Berrange, Joel Joffe, Arthur Chaskalson, and George Bizos.

Helen Joeseph
Outside the Rivonia Trial ( Baileys Archives) 
Outside the Palace of Justice during the Rivonia Trial. (Photograph by Alf Kumalo Baileys Archives)
Uniformed police, with police a police dog at the back of a truck, captured outside the Palace of Justice
Journalists outside court. The whole world was watching when the three major sabotage trials started in Pretoria, Cape Town and Maritzburg. Outside the Palace of Justice during the Rivonia Trial. (Photograph by Alf Kumalo Baileys Archives)
J. Vorster
Inside A 90 Day Detainee's Cell - Albertina Sisulu's Jail Ordeal. She's celebrating with friends after her release. Albertina Sisulu, wife of Walter Sisulu, former national executive member of the African National Congress who was held in the sensational Rivonia raid in July. (Photograph by Drum Photographer Baileys Archives)
Protesters outside the court. The whole world was watching when the three major sabotage trials started in Pretoria, Cape Town and Maritzburg. Outside the Palace of Justice during the Rivonia Trial. (Photograph by Alf Kumalo BAHA)
Circa 1964: Nelson Mandela, President of the African National Congress (left) in discussion with C Andrews, a Cape Town teacher. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)
Dennis Goldberg
Nelson Mandela's (first accused) statement given from the dock, during the Rivonia Trial 1964. 

After The Trialists Were Released...

Soweto, Johannesburg 15 Oct 1988 Stalwarts of the struggle,  At a Welcome Home rally on the day they were released from prison .Photo: iAfrika Photos. 
GW0737,South Africa, Johannesburg, Thokoza Township, 1st February, 1994: Tokyo Sexwalo, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu in Thokoza meeting. Goverment, ANC - African National Congress, political.. Photograph: Graeme Williams/South Photographs
Kwazulu Natal, 27th April 1994: Voters queue to cast their votes for the first democratic elections,. Photographs: Paul Weinberg/South Photographs
The remaining  Rivonia Trialists, until the unfortunate passing of Mr.Nelson Mandela (third from left) on the 5th of December, 2013. (In the image. From left: Ahmed Kathrada, Andrew Mlangeni, Nelson Mandela, Dennis Goldberg)  
Rivonia Trial produced by Pambili Productions in collaboration with The South African State Theatre
Legends of Freedom
Credits: Story

ANC
SA History Online
Nelson Mandela Foundation 
National Archives of South Africa 
South African Post Office 
Pambili Productions
Liliesleaf Farm Foundation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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