“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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Nelson Mandela Walter Sisulu
Denis Goldberg Govan Mbeki
Ahmed Kathrada Lionel “Rusty” Bernstein
Raymond Mhlaba James Kantor
Elias Motsoaledi Andrew Mlangeni
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.
After The Trialists Were Released...
— SA History Online
— Nelson Mandela Foundation
— National Archives of South Africa
— South African Post Office
— Pambili Productions
— Liliesleaf Farm Foundation