Nelson Mandela: Freedom is an ideal for which I am prepared to die
Posted Friday, December 6 2013 at 13:03
During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
The court proceedings at the Rivonia Trial were recorded by the State on dictabelt for which there is now no playback equipment. Mandela's statement from the dock was digitised with the assistance of the British Library, and this digital recording is now in the custody of the National Archives of South Africa. This recording was used to transcribe this speech. The speech is approximately 176 minutes long.
Occasion: Statement from the dock at the opening of the defence case in the Rivonia Trial
Place: Palace of Justice, Pretoria Supreme Court Pretoria South Africa
Date: Monday, April 20, 1964
Explanations: Nelson Mandela together with Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi, Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada and Denis Goldberg were convicted on 11 June 1964, and were sentenced to life imprisonment. The first seven were to spend most of their incarceration on Robben Island. Denis Goldberg as a white male spent his incarceration at Pretoria Maximum Prison because apartheid policies applied to prisons as well. Robben Island was reserved for African, Coloured and Indian prisoners. Arthur Goldreich was among those arrested in connection with the Rivonia trial. On 11 August 1963, he together with Harold Wolpe, Abdulhay Jassat and Moosa "Mosie" Moolla escaped from jail by bribing a guard, and fled the country. Liliesleaf was the name of the farm in the district of Rivonia on the northern outskirts of Johannesburg. It was owned by the South African Communist Party, and Goldreich and his family lived in the main house as the "white owners". Amadelakufa: those who are prepared to make sacrifices.
My Lord, I am the First Accused.
I hold a Bachelor's Degree in Arts and practised as an attorney in Johannesburg for a number of years in partnership with Mr. Oliver Tambo, a co-conspirator in this case. I am a convicted prisoner serving five years for leaving the country without a permit and for inciting people to go on strike at the end of May 1961.
I admit immediately that I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto we Sizwe, and that I played a prominent role in its affairs until I was arrested in August 1962. In the statement which I am about to make, I shall correct certain false impressions which have been created by State witnesses; amongst other things I will demonstrate that certain of the acts referred to in the evidence were not, and could not have been committed by Umkhonto. I will also deal with the relationship between the African National Congress and with the part which I personally have played in the affairs of both organisations. I shall deal also with the part played by the Communist Party. In order to explain these matters properly, I will have to explain what Umkhonto set out to achieve; what methods it prescribed for the achievement of these objects, and why these methods were chosen. I will also have to explain how I came, I became involved in the activities of these organisations.
At the outset, I want to say that the suggestion made by the state in its opening that the struggle in South Africa is under the influence of foreigners or communists is wholly incorrect. I have done whatever I did, both as an individual and as a leader of my people, because of my experience in South Africa and my own proudly felt African background, and not because of what any outsider might have said.
In my youth in the Transkei I listened to the elders of my tribe telling stories of the old days. Amongst the tales they related to me were those of wars fought by our ancestors in defence of the fatherland. The names of Dingane and Bambatha, Hintsa and Makana, Squngathi and Dalasile, Moshoeshoe and Sekhukhune, were praised as the pride and the glory of the entire African nation. I hoped then that life might offer me the opportunity to serve my people and make my own humble contribution to their freedom struggle. This is what has motivated me in all that I have done in relation to the charges made against me in this case.
Having said this, I must deal immediately and at some length with the question of sabotage. Some of the things so far told to the Court are true and some are untrue. I do not however, deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love for violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the whites.
I deny that Umkhonto was responsible for a number of acts which clearly fell outside the policy of the organisation, but which have been charged in the indictment against us. I do not know what justification there was for these acts, or who committed them, but to demonstrate that they could not have been authorised or committed by Umkhonto, I want to refer briefly to the roots and policy of the organisation.
I have already mentioned that I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto. I, and the others who started the organisation, did so for two reasons. Firstly, we believed that as a result of Government policy, violence by the African people had become inevitable, and that unless responsible leadership was given to canalise and control the feelings of our people, there would be outbreaks of terrorism which would produce an intensity of bitterness and hostility between the various races of the country which is not produced even by war.
Secondly, we felt that without sabotage there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy. All lawful modes of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the Government. We chose to defy the Government. We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and when the Government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence.
But the violence which we chose to adopt was not terrorism. We who formed Umkhonto were all members of the African National Congress, and had behind us the ANC tradition of non-violence and negotiation as a means of solving political disputes. We believed that South Africa belonged to all the people who lived in it, and not to one group, be it black or white. We did not want an inter-racial war, and tried to avoid it to the last minute. If the Court is in doubt about this, it will be seen that the whole history of our organisation bears out what I have said, and what I will subsequently say, when I describe the tactics which Umkhonto decided to adopt. I want, therefore, to say something about the African National Congress.
The African National Congress was formed in 1912 to defend the rights of the African people which had been seriously curtailed by the South Africa Act, and which were then being threatened by the Native Land Act. For thirty-seven years – that is until 1949 – it adhered strictly to a constitutional struggle. It put forward demands and resolutions; it sent delegations to the Government in the belief that African grievances could be settled through peaceful discussion and that Africans could advance gradually to full political rights. But white governments remained unmoved, and the rights of Africans became less instead of becoming greater. In the words of my leader, Chief Luthuli, who became President of the ANC, and who was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, I quote:
"Who will deny that thirty years of my life have been spent knocking in vain, patiently, moderately, and modestly at a closed and barred door? What have been the fruits of moderation? The past thirty years have seen the greatest number of laws restricting our rights and progress, until today we have reached a stage where we have almost no rights at all", unquote.
Even after 1949, the ANC remained determined to avoid violence. At this time, however, there was a change from the strictly constitutional means of protest which had been employed in the past. The change was embodied in a decision which was taken to protest against apartheid legislation by peaceful, but unlawful, demonstrations against certain laws. Pursuant to this policy the ANC launched the Defiance Campaign, in which I was placed in charge of volunteers. This campaign was based on the principles of passive resistance. More than 8,500 people defied apartheid laws and went to jail. Yet there was not a single instance of violence in the course of this campaign. I, and nineteen colleagues, were convicted for the role and this conviction was under the Suppression of Communism Act although our campaign had nothing to do with communism, but our sentences were suspended, mainly because the Judge found that discipline and non-violence had been stressed throughout. This was the time when the volunteer section of the ANC was established, and when the word 'Amadelakufa' was first used; this was the time when the volunteers were asked to take a pledge to uphold certain principles. Evidence dealing with volunteers and their pledges has been introduced into this case, but completely out of context. The volunteers were not, and are not, the soldiers of a Black army pledged to fight a civil war against whites. They were, and are, dedicated workers who are prepared to lead campaigns initiated by the ANC to distribute leaflets, to organise strikes, or to do whatever the particular campaign required. They are called volunteers because they volunteer to face the penalties of imprisonment and whipping which are now prescribed by the legislature for such acts.
During the Defiance Campaign, the Public Safety Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act were passed. These statutes provided harsher penalties for offences committed by way of protests against laws. Despite this, the protests continued and the ANC adhered to its policy of non-violence.