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April 20, 2011 – April 20, 2011 marks the 47th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s speech from the dock in the Rivonia Trial in which he said he was prepared to die for a democratic, non-racial South Africa.
The Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory has a rare typescript of the speech, which Mr Mandela autographed and gave as a gift to a comrade.
In the Rivonia Trial Mr Mandela chose, instead of testifying, to make a speech from the dock and proceeded to hold the court spellbound for more than four hours. His speech, which was made at the beginning of the defence case, ended with the words:
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself 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 live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Less than two months later, Mr Mandela and his comrades Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Denis Goldberg, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni and Elias Motsoaledi, were convicted of sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment. Apartheid laws dictated that the only white person sentenced, Denis Goldberg, should be held in Pretoria Central Prison. The other seven were sent to Robben Island.
Below the final paragraph of his typewritten speech Mr Mandela wrote:
“The invincibility of our cause and the certainty of our final victory are the impenetrable armour of those who consistently uphold their faith in freedom and justice in spite of political persecution”.
He signed the speech and dated it ‘April 1964’. Mr Mandela then gave the speech to Sylvia Neame, a political activist and the partner, at the time, of Mr Kathrada. She was arrested in August 1964 and put on trial with Advocate Bram Fischer and 10 others.
In April 1965 they were convicted and sentenced. Ms Neame was sentenced to four years (two years to run concurrently). She was released from prison in 1967 and went into exile.
After he was released from prison she gave the signed copy of the speech to Mr Kathrada who donated it to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.
Adv Fischer, who led the defence team in the Rivonia Trial, skipped bail during the trial with Ms Neame and others and was convicted in absentia.
He was rearrested in 1966 and sentenced to life imprisonment. In prison he contracted cancer which was diagnosed late. He was put under house arrest in his brother’s house in April 1975 where he died a few weeks later.