The Trial of Nelson Mandela (Rivonia Trial): Testimony of Walter Sisulu

Direct Examination by Bram Fischer:

Fischer: And have you suffered from these hardships [under apartheid] personally?   
Sisulu:  I have suffered. I have personal experience of various disabilities, as for instance the pass laws, and the question of being underpaid, and the question of persecution. I have been banned under the Suppression of Communism Act. I have been confined. I have been ordered to resign from political organizations to which I have belonged. I have been house-arrested. I have been detained. I have been separated from my family...
Fischer: What was your attitude then to the banning of the Congress?
Sisulu: We could not accept the ban on the African National Congress because it was the mouthpiece of the African people. It was the only hope that the African people had which could liberate them from oppression....          
Fischer:  Mr. Sisulu, you have chosen to give evidence under oath so that your story can be tested by cross-examination in the ordinary way.
Is that so?

Sisulu:  That is correct, my Lord. Except that I must explain to the court that I would like to make my position very clear. I am prepared to testify in this case in regard to the part I have played and in regard to the part which my organization has played and some of the people connected with it. But my Lord, I would certainly find it difficult to testify or to answer any questions relating to my organization which might lead to the prosecution of my people. I would not do anything which would lead to revealing the workings of my organization and confidential matters. I would not be able to testify insofar as that aspect is concerned. I am aware that by so doing I might worsen my position. But I find that I cannot do otherwise.          
Fischer: Looking back on it, Mr Sisulu, do you consider that you could or should have acted otherwise than you did?          
Sisulu: I can’t see how I could have done otherwise, other than what I have done. Because even if I myself did not play the role I did, others would have done what I have done instead.
Cross-Examination by Percy Yutar:
Yutar: So— money to promote sabotage?
Sisulu: No, that is a different matter altogether. Would you grudge a man his defense?...
Yutar: What precautions were taken to avoid injury to persons?
Sisulu: The fact that this was to be avoided was stressed repeatedly, and the targets were chosen with this in view. 
Yutar: If you remove a rail from a railway line you endanger human life, don’t you?
Sisulu: This kind of sabotage was not encouraged by Umkhonto.
Yutar: What are the consequences if a bomb is hurled into a room?
Sisulu: It was not in the nature of Umkhonto to do that. 
Yutar: What of the two children who were severely burnt in Port Elizabeth, and one of whom died?
Sisulu:  Mbeki said that this had not been the work of Umkhonto. 
Yutar: Then who was responsible, if not Umkhonto?
Sisulu:  Mbeki did not say. 
Mr Justice de Wet: There was a trial during the last war that I remember in which a bomb was placed next to the Benoni post office. Some unfortunate passer-by came to post a letter; the bomb exploded and he was killed. If you are going to start bombing buildings is it possible to avoid that type of accident? Can you ever be sure that you have avoided killing or injuring people?’
Sisulu: My Lord, an accident is an accident. But the precaution in fact is in the intention, and the method used—for instance at night, when people are not there. These are some of the things we take into consideration, that it should not be done at any time in any manner, in order to avoid the loss of life.
Mr. Justice de Wet: Your argument is that as long as you have not got the intention to kill people, it does not matter if you kill people. Is that your argument?

Sisulu: No sir. I am saying that precautions are taken in order to avoid such a thing. I am not saying that it can’t happen. But I am saying that precautions are taken that it should not happen...

Yutar: Name me one responsible person in the whole [Umkhonto] organization?
Sisulu: I am not prepared to give names.
Yutar: Were your saboteurs required to possess any academic qualifications?
Sisulu: No.
Yutar: In other words, you were reckless in your choice of persons who handled explosives?
Sisulu:  That is an exaggeration.
Yutar: (reading from one of the documentary exhibits): It says here that informers will be tracked down, if it takes ‘five years or a hundred’, and that ‘no mercy is to be shown to such.’
Sisulu: This was never the policy of the ANC.            
Yutar: In your eyes witness X [Mtolo] who appeared in this court is a traitor and an informer. What will be done to him?
Sisulu:  He will be ostracized.
Yutar: Not according to this document. It says here that he will be tracked down, whether it takes ‘five years or a hundred’, and that he will be shown no mercy.
Mr Justice de Wet: Did you also regard it as your duty to tell your people that they were being oppressed?
Sisulu:  All the African peoples on the continent desire freedom. The Africans of this country are no exception.
Yutar: Do you know anything about a book ‘The Gun’— the book which contains the key to this code [used in ANC/Umkhonto documents]? That is the one piece of documentary evidence we still lack.
Sisulu: I know nothing about it.
Yutar: In other words, you permitted the secretariat to write and to receive letters of which you did not know the contents?
Sisulu: Yes....     
Yutar: Did the ordinary members of the ANC know that this organization was hand in glove with the Communist Party?
Sisulu: It was a well-known fact.
 Yutar: How do you account for the fact, stated by X in his evidence, that it was not to become generally known that the ANC was co-operating with the Communists?
Sisulu: I refuse to accept X’s evidence. I believe what Mandela has said....  
Yutar: Well, unless his Lordship stops me, I’m going to insist on a name. I want to know who, on behalf of Umkhonto, drafted this pamphlet.
Sisulu: It doesn’t help you to insist on the name. I have explained that insofar as people who are in the country are concerned, I will certainly not answer.
Yutar: Not answer?
Sisulu: No. But I will answer to people who are outside.
Yutar: Oh. They’re safe!
Sisulu: Of course!
Yutar:  I want to know who drafted this pamphlet.
Sisulu: Well, my Lord, I am not prepared to answer that question.
Justice de Wet: You are not prepared to answer?
Sisulu: I am not prepared to answer.
De Wet: Yes, very well....
Sisulu:....We educate people in this country and the people abroad that the only solution in South Africa is living together as black and white—that there is no other solution.
Justice de Wet: Living together? But doesn’t that involve— according to your ideas—control by the non-white element because they have more in numbers?

Sisulu: My Lord, we have always maintained that because of historical conditions in this country the mere fact that the Africans are in the majority would not mean black domination.
Justice de Wet: No, but black control! Won’t it mean black control?
Sisulu:  Only in the sense that the majority of rulers will be black.
Justice de Wet:   That necessarily involves control, not so?
Sisulu:  Well it might be that control can be exercised by both races together. We have in the history of this country, an example in the Cape Province where the Africans themselves elected a European.
Justice De Wet: You would never agree to that, would you?
Sisulu: Why not?
Justice De Wet: You being represented by a white person?
Sisulu: No, not to be represented, my Lord. We don’t want to be represented. But we say if the people of South Africa elected Dr Verwoerd, by all means let him come to Parliament—he is elected by the whole lot. We are not fighting the issue on the basis of colour....
Yutar: What for? The police don’t arrest people indiscriminately, unless…
Sisulu: They arrest many people indiscriminately. For no offence people have been arrested.
Yutar: Would you like to make a political speech?
Sisulu: I am not making a political speech. I am answering your question.
Yutar:  How do you know they arrest people innocently?
Sisulu: I know. They arrested my wife. They arrested my son. That was indiscriminate.
Yutar:  Without any evidence whatsoever?
Sisulu: What evidence?
Yutar: I don’t know. I am asking?
Sisulu: I have been persecuted by the police. If there is a man who has been persecuted, it is myself. In 1962 I was arrested six times. I know the position in this country.
Yutar: You do?
Sisulu: I wish you were in the position of an African! I wish you were an African and knew the position...
De Wet: If the technicians are so clever that they can trace the origin of a broadcast within a few minutes, then it doesn’t matter where you hold the broadcast, they will catch you red-handed.
Sisulu: We would still take the risk. There was no doubt that those who were there were taking a big risk. But the point is that we were in hiding, and that is the reason it was not done at Rivonia. We were staying there, and we would have been exposing it to the police.
De Wet: So you don’t mind the people who were working the broadcast and putting your recording over the air—you wouldn’t mind their being caught so long as you are not caught? Is that the position?

Sisulu: No, that’s not what I’m trying to say. One does take the risk. But you would not put all your eggs in one basket. Those who were to do it were there. That’s why we were not there—not that we don’t care about any particular person who might be arrested.
De Wet: Isn’t that rather typical of patriots? That they are always prepared to let the rank and file take the risk, and see that they don’t put themselves in danger. Isn’t that the position?
Sisulu: I don’t think that that interpretation is correct. Take the case of war . . . the generals are sometimes not very exposed, not because they want to expose others.
De Wet: But exactly the same thing happens with people who are plotting a rebellion or revolution. They look forward to being the government in due course. And they see to it that they preserve their own skins, not so?
Sisulu: My understanding, my Lord, is that we, to the best of our ability, want to preserve everyone....

Re-direct Examination by Bram Fischer:

Fischer: You were first convicted in 1952 in the Defiance of Unjust Laws Campaign?
Sisulu:   That is correct.
Fischer:  In consequence of taking a lead there you were convicted a second time under the Suppression of Communism Act, for organizing the  Defiance Campaign and taking a part in it?
Sisulu:   That is correct.
Fischer:  That could have given you ten years in jail, couldn’t it?
Sisulu:   That is correct.
Fischer:  Then again you were arrested in 1954 and convicted for attending a gathering. At that time you had been banned from gatherings?
Sisulu:    Yes.
Fischer:  You were convicted, but acquitted on appeal?
Sisulu:    That is correct.
Fischer:  In 1960 you were detained during the State of Emergency?
Sisulu:    That is correct.
Fischer:  In 1961 you were convicted twice, and in 1962 you were first arrested for attending a gathering and then the charges were withdrawn?
Sisulu:    That is correct.
Fischer:   In April you were arrested again in Johannesburg under the Suppression of Communism Act, and there you were acquitted on the charge of attending a gathering?
Sisulu:     Yes.
Fischer:   Then in 1962 I think you were arrested on several occasions?
Sisulu:    Six times in 1962.
Fischer:  One of these occasions was when your mother died and people came from your neighborhood to your house to sympathize?
Sisulu:    They came as you say. And I explained the position to the police, but despite my explanation they arrested me. Eventually the charge was withdrawn.
Fischer:   When the ANC became illegal, you have told the court you continued to participate in its activity. And that of course exposed you I think to a sentence of ten years?
Sisulu:     That is correct.
Fischer:   And when you were detained for 90 days (that is to say, from day of the arrest at Rivonia) were you approached and interrogated in any way?
Sisulu:     Yes, I was interrogated by members of the Special Branch several times. They said they believed I was in possession of vital information which would help the State, and that I was facing a very grave charge, the penalty for which is death. They told me I could escape if I was prepared to give evidence, or rather to give them information confidentially. They said it would not be known by anybody. And they told me that some of the Europeans had already spoken and given information about me. They repeated examples of the rebellion of 1914 when Jopie Fourie was hanged. I, however, said that I would never give information about my colleagues and they could do what they wished.
Fischer:     So you did not accept any offer, though it may have saved you from the death penalty?
Sisulu:      Yes.

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