The Trial of Nelson Mandela (Rivonia Trial): Opening Statement of Bram Fischer
Statement at the opening of the defense case by attorney Bram Fischer

Mr. Fischer: Amongst the matters which will be placed in issue by the defense are the following: First, that Accused Nos. 1 to 7 (that is, all except Kantor, Miangeni and Motsoaledi) were members of the National High Command of Umkhonto we Sizwe. The defense evidence will show that the accused Goldberg, Kathrada and Bernstein were not members of the High Command of Umkhonto or members of Umkhonto at all. The defense evidence will also explain what the relationship was between Mandela, Sisulu and Mbeki, and with Umkhonto and the High Command of Umkhonto. It will also show what the relationship was between Goldberg and Umkhonto, and between Miangeni and Umkhonto, and Motsoaledi and the African National Congress.

Second, my Lord, in issue will be the allegation by the State that Umkhonto was a section of the African National Congress, to use the phrase so frequently used by the State, “the military wing” of the African National Congress. The defense will seek to show that the leaders both of Umkhonto and of the African National Congress, for sound and valid reasons which will be explained to your Lordship, endeavored to keep these two organizations entirely distinct. They did not always succeed in this for reasons which will also be explained, but we will suggest that the object of keeping the two organizations separate was always kept in mind and every effort was made to achieve that object.

Thirdly, my Lord, it will be put in issue that the African National Congress was a “tool” of the Communist Party, and that the aims and objects of the African National Congress were the aims and objects of the Communist Party. Your Lordship will remember that great point was made of this in the State’s opening. The defense will deny this emphatically, my Lord. It will show that the ANC is a broad national movement, embracing all classes of Africans within its ranks, and having the aim of achieving equal
political rights for all South Africans. The evidence will show further that it welcomes not only the support which it received from the Communist Party but also the support which it receives from any other quarter. Now on this point, the evidence will show how Umkhonto we Sizwe was formed, and that it was formed in order to undertake sabotage only when it was considered that no other method remained for the achievement of political rights. Finally, on this point, my Lord, the defense will deny the allegations made in the state’s case that Umkhonto or the African National Congress relied, in order to obtain support, on what was referred to as being ‘the alleged hardships’ suffered by people.

All this will be relevant particularly to the fourth point, and that is this—the fourth issue—that Umkhonto had adopted a military plan called Operation Mayibuye and intended to embark upon guerrilla warfare during 1963 or had decided to embark upon guerrilla warfare.

Mr. Justice de Wet: Will that be denied?

Mr. Fischer: That will be denied. Here the evidence will show that while preparations for guerrilla warfare were being made from as early as 1962, no plan was ever adopted, and the evidence will show why it was hoped throughout that such a step could be avoided. In regard to the last issue, the court will be asked to have regard to the motives, the character and political background of the men in charge of Umkhonto we Sizwe and its operations. In other words, to have regard amongst other things to the tradition of non-violence of the African National Congress; to have regard to the reasons which led these men to resort to sabotage in an attempt to achieve their political objectives; and why, in the light of these facts, they are to be believed when they say that Operation Mayibuye had not been adopted, and that they would not have adopted it while there was some chance, however remote, of having their objectives achieved by the combination of mass political struggle and sabotage.

The defense case, my Lord, will commence with a statement from the dock by Nelson Mandela who personally took part in the establishment of Umkhonto, and who will be
Nelson Mandela who will be able to inform the court of the beginnings of that organization and, of its history up to August 1962 when he was arrested.

Yutar: My Lord! My Lord. I think you should warn the accused that what he says from the dock has far less weight than if he submitted himself to cross-examination!.

Mr. Justice de Wet: I think, Mr. Yutar, that counsel for the defense have sufficient experience to be able to advise their clients without your assistance.

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