1955 - 1960


Africa Media Online

156 South Africans accused of high treason

The Treason Trial was the South African apartheid government's response to the adoption of the Freedom Charter at the Congress of the People in Kliptown on June 26, 1955. 

The 156 people arrested by the apartheid government included then President of the African National Congress (ANC), Chief Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu. 

Almost the entire leadership of the Congress Alliance made up of the African National Congress, the Congress of Democrats the South African Indian Congress, the Coloured People's Congress, and the South African Congress of Trade Unions, were put on trial.

The 156 defendants which included South Africans of all races (in apartheid categories: 105 Blacks, 21 Indians, 23 Whites and 7 Coloureds), were accused of high treason, a charge which carried the death sentence.  The trialists were eventually found to be "not-guilty" but some of them were later convicted at the Rivonia Trial.

Lawyers defending the trialists were led by Izrael Maisels and included Bram Fisher.  Bishop Ambrose Reeves, author Alan Paton and Alex Hepple, a labour MP, Dr Ellen Hellman of the Institute of Race Relations and Julius First set up the South African Treason Trial Defence Fund. 

One unplanned consequence of the trial was that the leaders of the movement against apartheid got to spend significant time together. Another consequence was that Oliver Tambo, who was released for lack of evidence, left South Africa and began to coordinate ANC activity from exile including turning international opinion against apartheid.

Walter Sisulu arrives at the trial
Nelson Mandela (third from left) arrives by bus
A treason trialist arrives by police escourt
Inside the Drill Hall, Johannesburg, where the trial took place
Treason trialists included ...Walter Sisulu
...Bertha Mashaba
...Joe Slovo
...Annie Silinga
...Ruth First
...Helen Joseph
Nelson Mandela and others during a lunch break.
Crowd support for the trialists
Police presence during the trial
End of Round One - To keep fit, Nelson Mandela, solicitor, was at Jerry Moloi's boxing gym at Orlando every evening. Here he is shadow-sparring with Moloi (right) a professional featherweight.
Credits: Story

Photographs — Baileys African History Archive
Text — Baileys African History Archive and Africa Media Online 

Credits: All media
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