On the Rivonia Trial, June 12 1964

On June 12 1964, Lutuli issued this statement when Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and six others were sentenced to life imprisonment in the "Rivonia Trial". Lutuli, who consistently followed a non-violent approach to protest, had warned that the government was pushing many Africans close to the point where they would lose faith in non-violent methods. He explains here the circumstances that influenced the eight to choose the path of violent struggle against the stale. The statement "... no one can blame brave, just men for seeking justice by the use of violent methods ..." is sometimes used to show that Lutuli justified violent resistance. This is the only place that such a statement appears and here it is in the context of trying to explain why these leaders did resort to the armed struggle. He often refers to "militant non-violent struggle" where "militant" is used to mean what Martin Luther King Jnr. meant by direct non-violent action. This is quite consistent with his claim not to be a pacifist yet choosing non-violence as the best option for political struggle. In this statement he appeals for economic sanctions against South Africa, a natural extenlion to his view of non-violent, international coercion.

Sentences of life imprisonment: have been pronounced on Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Dennis Goldberg, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni in the "Rivonia trial" in Pretoria.

Over the long years these leaders advocated a policy of racial co-operation, of goodwill, and of peaceful struggle that made the South African liberation movement one of the most ethical and responsible of our time. In the face of the most bitter racial persecution, they resolutely set themselves against racialism; in the face of continued provocation, they consistently chose the path of reason.

The African National Congress, with allied organizations representing all racial sections, sought every possible means of redress for intolerable conditions, and held consistently to a policy of using militant, non-violent means of struggle. Their common aim was to create a South Africa in which all South Africans would live and work together as fellow-citizens, enjoying equal rights without discrimination on grounds of race, colour or creed.

To this end, they used every accepted method: propaganda, public meetings and rallies, petitions, stay-at-home-strikes, appeals, boycotts. So carefully did they educate the people that in the four- year-long treason trial, one police witness after another voluntarily testified to this emphasis on non-violent methods of struggle in all aspects of their activities.

But finally all avenues of resistance were closed. The African National Congress and other organizations were made illegal; their leaders jailed, exiled or forced underground. The government sharpened its oppression of the peoples of South Africa, using its all-white parliament as the vehicle for making repression legal, and utilizing every weapon of this highly industrialized and modem state to enforce that legality. The stage was even reached where a white spokesman for the disenfranchised Africans was regarded by the government as a traitor. In addition, sporadic acts of uncontrolled violence were increasing throughout the country. At first in one place, then in another, there were spontaneous eruptions against intolerable conditions; many of these acts increasingly assumed a racial character the congress is concerned, in the circumstances that obtain definitely we are for non-violence. When it comes to a persona level, as to whether at any time one would, I would say that if conditions are as they are, I could never be a party to the use of violence because I think it would be almost national suicide, in the circumstances as they are.

And quite apart from that point of view, what would you say with regard to your own beliefs?

My own beliefs as I have already said are to a certain extent motivated by Christian leanings. Because of my Christian leanings I would hesitate to be a party to violence, my lords. But, of course, I must say in that connection that I am not suggesting that the Christian religion says this and that I am not a theologian, but my own leanings would be in that direction.

Therefore, in so far as there is a suggestion in this case, an allegation by the Crown, that the ANC either is adopting a violent policy or educating the people for violence, and educating the people violently to overthrow the government, what would you say in regard to that? Is there any truth in that at all?

There is no truth whatsoever in that.

Now, a suggestion has been made that while non-violence may be a method currently employed in the sense that it pays you to employ it currently, it is not — the suggestion is made by the Crown — really part of the ANC policy?

There is no foundation for that.

You say there is no foundation for that?
None whatsoever.

What is the true position?

The true position is this, that it is a policy, a basic policy of the African National Congress.

Now, in theory, who could change that policy?
We could, my lords.

Yes, but who could change it?

The African National Congress.

Page 86 Voices of Liberation vol.1 Albert Lutuli, by G JL Pillay

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