On 11 July 1963, I was one of seven men arrested at the Lilliesleaf Farm, Rivonia, near Johannesburg. After three months’ detention in solitary confinement we were brought before the Supreme Court, with four others, on charges of sabotage, which carried the death penalty. Accused No.1 was Nelson Mandela, then serving a five-year sentence following his trial in 1962 when I had acted as his legal representative. I was Accused No.11.
The defence lawyers launched an attack on the indictment. Shortly before it was quashed by the Judge-President, the State Prosecutor, Dr Yutar, dramatically announced that all charges against me were being withdrawn, and that I would be called as the first witness for the State. I was released from custody.
I had no intention of testifying against the accused, whom I admired and respected. With the assistance of Bram Fischer QC , leading counsel for the defence, and others, I escaped with my wife Shirley via Bechuanaland Protectorate (Botswana) and Tanzania to England.
These personal memoirs were written, while the events were still fresh in my mind, in May and June 1964 as the Rivonia Trial drew to an end. They were intended to provide a factual account of the events leading up to the trial by one of the participants who “got away”. I decided then that it was too dangerous for those still on trial or active in South Africa for me to allow its distribution even on a limited scale. In any event, nothing I wrote could be published until the banning orders against me were lifted in February 1990, the day after Mandela’s release. By then it seemed to be of no more than historical interest. The recent publication of other, not entirely accurate versions of these events, has led me to make this edited version available to those interested in my side of the story.
Dear friends of SAHO
South African History Online (SAHO) needs your support.
SAHO is one of the most visited websites in South Africa with over 6 million unique users a year. Our goal is to fulfill our mandate and continue to build, and make accessible, a new people’s history of South Africa and Africa.
Please help us deliver this by contributing upwards of $1.00 a month for the next 12 months.