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South Africa

03. December 2008

Rivonia Trial records finally returned to the state

Nelson Mandela smiled as a glass box containing valuable historical items related to his life as a political activist was set before him. The historical collections, which included Rivonia Trial records, were formally returned to the state in a special handover ceremony held last week. The ceremony took place at the Nelson Mandela Foundation's offices in Houghton and was attended by special guests including fellow Rivonia trialists Ahmed Kathrada and Dennis Goldberg as well as Rivonia lawyers George Bizos and Judge Arthur Chaskalson.

The collections handed over to the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the National Archives included official state records of the Rivonia Trail of 1963-64, in which Mandela and seven others were sentenced to life imprisonment.

The records were declared missing when an assessment of the original set of court records transferred to the Department of Justice in 1994, were recognised as being incomplete.  An investigation launched by the government at the time proved unsuccessful.

Meanwhile Dr Percy Yutar, who had led the prosecution at the Rivonia Trial and had amassed a substantial collection of copies of records and his own working papers, was actively offering this collection on the international market.

In an effort to keep the court records in South Africa, mining magnate Harry Oppenheimer acquired them from Yutar and kept them at the family's Brenthurst Library.

Handing over the records to Minister of Arts and Culture Pallo Jordan, Nicky Oppenheimer described the Rivonia trial as a seminal trial in the history of South Africa. He said he was proud to return the documents to the state on behalf of his father who had wanted to ensure that they remained in South Africa.

Included in the records, which will now be in the care of the National Archives (a division of the Department of Arts and Culture) is the original transcript of the trial, a series of photographs, a range of other documents and the diary Mandela kept when he left South Africa secretly at the beginning of 1962.

Also included is Mr Mandela's famous four-hour speech which he delivered from the dock of the Palace of Justice in Pretoria on 20 April 1964 at the start of the defence case. It was at the end of this speech that he said:

"During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have struggled 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 to die."

The Rivonia Trial is internationally recognised as an important historical event. In 2007 the trial was added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

Also received by Mandela at the handover ceremony was a series of tape recorded conversations between Mandela and Richard Stengel, who assisted with the writing and compiling of Long Walk to Freedom, as well as conversations between Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada which were conducted to assist the publication of his authorised biography by Anthony Sampson.

The Foundation describes the recordings as "a rich and often intimate record of Madiba's engagement with his memory". They will remain in the care of the Foundation's Centre for Memory and Dialogue.


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