The Accused: "The Rivonia 11"
Nelson Mandela Trial Homepage
was the son of a village chief from Mvezo, in the Transkeiean
Territories. The first in his family to attend school, Mandela
was a good student. After completing his B.A. degree he entered
law studies at the University of Witwatersrand. Mandela's life of
political activism began with the apartheid-promoting National Party's
victory in 1948. In his early years with the ANC, Mandela
supported a Gandhian policy of non-violent resistance to apartheid, but
that changed with the government's banning of the ANC following the
Sharpeville riot and shootings. He saw armed struggle as the
necessary last resort. Mandela co-founded the militant organization
Umkhonto we Sizwe, planned a strategy of sabotage, raised funds for
weapons, and arranged military training for possible guerrilla
warfare. In his clandestine role, Mandela lived and worked at
Rivonia before traveling abroad (illegally) to win foreign support for
his efforts. Upon his return to South Africa, he was arrested,
tried, and convicted for leaving the country without a passport and
inciting a strike. At the time of the Rivonia raid, Mandela had
been imprisoned on Robben Island for over eight months.
Defense attorney Joel Joffe described Mandela as "a really great man."
According to Joffe, Mandela had all the "attributes of a leader--the
engaging personality, the ability, the stature, the calm, the
diplomacy, the tact, and the conviction." Even prison officials
treated Mandela with respect, perhaps recognizing in him a bigger man
than themselves. Mandela was, without a doubt, the leader among
the Rivonia defendants.
of the charged acts of sabotage occurred after Mandela was in jail, his
prominent role in both the ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) made a
verdict of "guilty" all but inevitable. Rather than be
cross-examined about his contacts and specific underground work,
Mandela chose to offer a statement from the dock. He saw it as
his duty as a leader in the liberation movement to explain its goals.
In his four-hour long reading of his statement, Mandela outlined the
history of racial oppression in South Africa, the rise of the ANC, and
his felt necessity for turning to violence and the establishment of
MK. Mandela insisted that MK planned sabotage attacks against
facilities at times and places so as to minimize the possibility that
lives would be lost. He ended his statement dramatically, telling
the court, "I am prepared to die."
Mandela was convicted on all counts and sentenced to life in
prison. He served 18 years on Robben Island before transfer to a
prison in Cape Town. The last two years of his imprisonment, up
to his release in 1990, were spent in a bungalow and included periods
of secret negotiations with the South African government for a
transition to a multi-racial democracy. In May 1994, Nelson
Mandela was inaugurated as the first black president of South Africa.
Walter Sisulu's mother was a domestic worker, his father a white civil
servant. Sisulu joined the ANC in 1940 and became Secretary
General of the ANC in 1949. He was arrested seven times between
1953 and 1963. He was present at a meeting of the Umkhonto High
Command when Operation Mayibuye was first presented for
consideration. Sisulu was among those captured in Rivonia in July
Defense attorney Joel Joffe described Sisulu as "one of the most
impressive personalities among the accused." Other
defendants often turned to Sisulu for advice, as he was respected for
his careful and deliberate judgment.
was the first defense witness to be questioned on the witness
stand. In his testimony, Sisulu outlined the history of the ANC
and its military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. He testified that
Operation Mayibuye was presented to the High Command but never
adopted. He stated that he did not agree with many aspects of the
proposed operation: "My view was that conditions did not exist at
that time for Operation Mayibuye." Defense attorney Joffe called
Sisulu's five days of cross-examination "a triumph": "The whole court
had been impressed by this small man of meager education but tremendous
sincerity, calm, conviction, and certainty."
Sisulu was convicted on all four counts and sentenced to life in
prison. He was released in 1989.
at 53, was grey-haired and the oldest of the 11 Rivonia accused.
After graduating from Fort Hare University in 1936, Mbeki began a life
of political activism. He served on the editorial board of the
New Age, a liberation movement journal, and was a leader of the ANC and
the South African Communist Party.
Defense attorney Joel Joffe wrote that Mbeki had "the softest voice and
the quietest, calmest manner of any of the accused," but beneath that
exterior was "a steel-hard interior." In his cross-examination,
Mbeki admitted to having "a ruthless determination" to emancipate black
|At the Rivonia
trial, Mbeki presented much of the defense testimony relating to South
Africa's history of race-based repression and the political goals of
the ANC. The prosecution presented 13 documents directly
implicating Mbeki, and his "guilt" was never in serious question.
He was found guilty on all four charges and sentences to life in prison.
Mbeki was released in 1988 after serving 25 years in prison.
Following his release, he was chosen as Deputy President of the first
multi-racial South African Senate. His son, Thabo Mbeki, was
elected president of South Africa. Govan Mbeki died in 2001.
|Born in Nebo,
Sekhukuneland, Elias Motsoaledi moved at age 17 to Johannesburg, where
he found work in a boot factory. He joined a trade union movement
and soon was led into a life of political activism. He joined the
ANC in 1948. After the organization was banned, he became active
in Umkhonto we Sizwe which he joined because, he said, there was no
other choice "but to suffer."
Defense attorney Joel Joffe described Motsoaledi as "a short, vivacious
and charming personality." At the time of the Rivonia trial, he
was 39 and the father of seven young children.
|At the time of
the Rivonia raid, Motsoaledi was already held in detention.
Prosecution witness Bruno Mtolo testified that Motsoaledi showed him
how to make explosive material for sabotage operations. Witness
English Mashiloane testified that Motsoaledi supervised operations that
sent young recruits abroad for military training. The defense
chose not to subject Motsoaledi to questioning on the stand; instead,
he read a prepared statement in which he said, "What I did, I did for
Motsoaledi was convicted on charges of conspiracy and sabotage and
sentenced to life in prison. He was released in 1989 and died
five years later.
Ahmed Kathrada was born in 1929 to immigrant
parents from India living in a small village in the Western
Transvaal. Kathrada moved to Johannesburg to receive an education
and became politically active by age 12 when he joined the Young
Communist League. He left school at age 17 to become a full-time
political activist. When the African and Indian Congresses
entered an era of close cooperation in the 1950s, Kathrada worked with
ANC leaders including Mandela and Sisulu.
Defense attorney Joel Joffe described Kathrada as having "a sharp
tongue" and "an engaging personality. He considered him more "a
doer than a theorizer."
described the case against Kathrada as "extremely weak." He was
arrested at Rivonia (disguised as a Portuguese) where he had drafted a
couple of pamphlets and taped a broadcast for ANC radio. There
was no evidence directly tying him to Operation Mayibuye or sabotage.
Despite the weak case, Kathrada was convicted on one of the four
charges against him and sentenced to life in prison. He was
released in 1989, after spending 26 years in prison. He was
elected as a member of the South African parliament in 1994.
Goldberg was considered by South African authorities in 1963 to be "the
most dangerous white man in the country." Goldberg was born in
Cape Town, where he studied civil engineering before joining the South
African Communist Party. In May 1963, Goldberg left Cape Town for
Johannesburg, intending to flee the country. Instead, he was
asked by officials of Umkhonto we Sizwe to use his technical knowledge
to explore the possibility of building large numbers of grenades,
land mines, and other weapons that could be used in a coming guerrilla
war. He was captured at Rivonia in July 1963. Weeks later,
he made a failed attempt to escape from Vereeniging Prison.
Defense attorney Joel Joffe described Goldberg as an "easy-going" man
who provided a steady flow of puns, jokes, and witticisms.
against Goldberg was overwhelming. Prosecution witness Cyril
Davids testified that Goldberg ran a training camp for guerrillas
(Goldberg maintained the camp was just political.) More than
twenty other prosecution witnesses, including manufacturers and
merchants, testified that Goldberg, using a pseudonym, inquired
about the possibility of purchasing large numbers of castings and other
parts that could be used in weapon construction. With the massive
case against him, Goldberg offered to plead guilty and take the blame
for other defendants. He took the stand only against the advice
of his attorneys, who warned him that his testify might backfire and
get him the death penalty.
Goldberg was convicted on all charges and sentenced to life in
prison. After his release in 1985 he moved to London. He
returned to South Africa in 2002 to become a special adviser to the
Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry.
Andrew Mlangeni grew up at the ninth child of fourteen in a Soweto
family. He worked as a caddy at a golf course, as a bus driver
and as a factory worker before joining the ANC in 1954. In
October 1961 he left Johannesburg and received military training
outside the country. He joined Umkhonto we Sizwe in February
1963, but was not a member of the National High Command. He was
known in the movement as "Robot" for his single-minded determination to
finish any task to which he was assigned. Mlangeni was arrested
weeks before the Rivonia raid. While in detention, he was
tortured with electrical shocks that left visible burn scars.
witness English Mashiloane testified that Mlangeni arranged
transportation for young military recruits and supervised their
training. In his closing argument, Percy Yutar called Mlangeni
the "Minister of Transport" for Umkhonto we Sizwe. In his
statement before the court, Mlangeni said that he "found a political
home" in the ANC and that "what I did was not for myself but for my
Mlangeni was convicted on all four counts and sentenced to life in
prison. He was released in 1989. He was elected as a member
of the South African parliament in 1994.
was a South African lawyer. His law partner and brother-in-law,
Harold Wolpe (who handled the affairs of various political activists),
disappeared suddenly days after the Rivonia raid. Wolpe and
Arthur Goldreich, owner of the Rivonia estate, were arrested at the
South African border and taken to a Pretoria jail. When Wolpe and
Goldreich managed a successful escape, authorities turned their
attention to Kantor, who served essentially as a proxy for Wolpe at the
trial. In the view of defense lawyers, Kantor was "a hostage for
his brother-in-law." Kantor was clearly an "odd man out" among
the eleven accused, and the evidence against him, such as it was,
seemed unconnected to the other defendants. During his period of
detention, Kantor suffered what appeared to be a nervous breakdown and
his law practice deteriorated.
Rivonia trial began, prosecutor Percy Yutar insisted Kantor was
involved in sabotage and the recruitment of men for military
training. (This assertion, it turned out, was based on the
unsupported statement of a ANC supporter to had been subjected to
torture.) At trial virtually no evidence that incriminated Kantor
was presented. The prosecution attempted to suggest that funds
from Kantor's firm were used for purchase of the Rivonia farm and that
persons under communication bans met with lawyers in his office, but
the witness who provided testimony on this point largely absolved
Kantor on cross-examination. Kantor was discharged from the case
by Justice de Wet in December 1963 without even having to present
evidence on his own behalf.
Kantor fled the country after the trial. He died of a heart
attack in 1975.
Lionel (Rusty) Bernstein
Bernstein was the son of Jewish emigres. Orphaned at age 8,
Bernstein was sent to an exclusive boy's boarding school. Upon
graduating, he moved to Johannesburg were he found work as an continued
his education and eventually became an architect. After serving in the
South African army in WW II, Bernstein supported a strike of African
miners in 1946. He wrote extensively for various Communist Party
(which he had joined in 1939), ANC, and liberation journals and
newspapers. In 1956, he was charged with treason, but eventually
found not guilty. He was arrested at Rivonia in July 1963 where
he had gone to plan remodeling for a storeroom.
Defense attorney Joel Joffe described Bernstein as "depressed,
listless, and nervous" after his 90-day detention. He "spoke
little" and "seemed to sparkle only in his writing."
wrote there "was less evidence against [Bernstein] than anyone
else." Joseph Mashifane, a Rivonia servant and prosecution
witness, testified he saw Bernstein up on the roof helping to erect a
radio antenna. Testifying at the trial, Bernstein proved himself
to be an almost "ideal witness," in Joffe's view. He gave "clear,
concise answers" in a "polite and unruffled" manner and conceded
nothing. Cross-examination of Bernstein was mishandled by the
prosecutor, who focused mainly on Bernstein's Communist Party ties
while failed to establish elements of the alleged crime.
According to Joffe, after cross, "the case against him had disappeared."
Bernstein was found "not guilty" by Justice de Wet. Writing in
1988, Bernstein said: "It is believed that the judge decided in advance
to acquit one [of three defendants, including himself, Kathrada, and
Mlaba, against whom the case was flimsy], thus proving the fairness of
the trial." "Being white and middle-class," Bernstein wrote,
probably won him "the lottery." After the trial, Bernstein fled
South Africa, making his way to Zambia and then to London, where he
worked as an architect. He died in 2002.
was born in the Fort Beaufort district and took work in a Port
Elizabeth laundry after leaving school. From trade union work he
gravitated to the Communist Party, which he joined in 1943, and the
ANC, which he joined the following year. He served as chair of
the Port Elizabeth ANC branch for six years and, after the ANC's
banning in 1960, received military training in China. He was
arrested at Rivonia in July 1963.
Defense attorney Joel Joffe described Mhlaba as a large man with a
"stolid immovable determination" and a trademark "great shrieking
prosecution case against Mhlaba was weak. A taxi driver testified
that Mhlaba was among a group of people that he drove to an electricity
sub-station on the night it was sabotaged. This evidence,
however, was contradicted by the prosecutor's own apparent
acknowledgment later in the trial that Mhlaba was outside the country
at the time of the attack on the sub-station. Joffe believes the
taxi driver's testimony was perjury calculated "to fill an obvious
weakness in the state's case." In his testimony, Mhaba testified
that he was on a mission for the ANC at the time of the sabotage, but
refused to answer a question about exactly where he was and what he was
Despite the weak case against him, Mhlaba was convicted and sentenced
to life in prison. He was released in 1989. In 1994, Mhlaba
was selected as Premier of the Eastern Cape and later served as High
Commissioner to Uganda and Rwanda. In 2005, he died following a
diagnosis of liver cancer.
(Bob) Hepple was a lawyer and Communist Party member. He served
as a member of the law faculty at the University of Witwatersrand
before resigning to practice law full-time. He was arrested at
Rivonia in July 1963.
While in detention, authorities approached Hepple about turning state's
witness. Hepple seemingly agreed, typed a confessional statement
for police and identified the hiding place of Goldreich and
Wolpe. In return, Hepple was released from detention on his
promise that he would not abscond. Much to prosecutor Percy
Yutar's disgust, he did--"Such is the reliance one can place on the
honor of a Communist!", Yutar later wrote.
|At the first
session of the trial in October 1963, Percy Yutar announced that the
state was withdrawing charges against Hepple and that he would be the
state's star witness in the upcoming trial. Leaving the courtroom
that day, Hepple told his former fellow defendants, "Good luck."
Hepple's escape took him to Kenya. From the safety of Kenya,
Hepple told reporters that he never had any intention to testify
against any of the accused, whose values and aims he shared. He
later taught labor and comparative social law in England until 2001,
and was knighted in 2004. He told an interviewer in 2005 that he
considered himself to be "tremendously lucky."