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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 544

Paragraph Numbers 64 to 76

Volume 3

Chapter 6

Subsection 9

Political trials

64 Political trials similar to the famous Treason Trial of 1956 continued throughout the 1960s and 1970s. During 1963 and 1964, a spate of trials effectively removed and imprisoned much of the leadership of the PAC, ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the ARM, forcing these organisations into exile and undermining early attempts to build underground networks within the country.

65 Immediately after the Sharpville massacre, there were several trials involving the leadership of the PAC and people who had participated in the anti-pass protests. Within two months, on 4 May 1960, the leader of the organisation, Mr Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe [EC0155/97ALB], and eighteen other leaders of the PAC were convicted of inciting others to support a campaign for the repeal of pass laws. Mr Sobukwe was sentenced to three years, Mr PK Leballo and three others to two years each and Mr J Madzunyana and thirteen others to eighteen months.4

66 In its verbal submission to the Commission, the PAC described the unique legislation introduced by the government to ensure that PAC leader Robert Sobukwe remained in jail:

Mangaliso Robert Sobukwe was sentenced to a three-year prison term, which he served at Stoffberg at Witbank. On completion of his three-year mandatory sentence, the apartheid authorities unilaterally decided to extend his incarceration through passing an unprecedented bill in the all-white parliament known as the ‘Sobukwe Clause’. Under this special parliamentary dispensation, President Sobukwe was kept on Robben Island for a further six years. On the island, he was kept incommunicado from the rest of the political prisoners. Actually, it was even a crime to wave your hand if you saw him where he was sitting. He was subsequently released and banished to Kimberley. He was only released from the Island because the regime knew very well he would not live long.

67 In another trial, targeting people who had participated in the pass protests, Mr Matthew Nkoana of the PAC and 141 others were found guilty of working in concord against the reference book system and failing or refusing to produce their books on demand. They were sentenced to three years or a fine of £300.5

68 The Rivonia trial, which followed the raid on the operational headquarters of MK on Liliesleaf farm, began on 9 October 1963. Eleven members, led by Nelson Mandela, faced charges of sabotage. The state argued that the ANC was dominated by Communists, had planned a campaign of guerrilla warfare and, after its banning, had decided to embark on a policy of destruction and violence. In June 1964, seven of the accused, namely, Mr Nelson Mandela, Mr Walter Sisulu, Mr Dennis Goldberg, Mr Govan Mbeki, Mr Raymond Mhlaba, Mr Elias Motsoaledi, Mr Andrew Mlangeni and Mr Ahmed Kathrada were sentenced to life imprisonment.6

69 While the Rivonia trial was the most publicised trial of this period, the government’s determination to halt the ANC’s plans to mount an armed campaign inside the country led to further trials, targeting various levels of leadership within MK.

70 Mr Laloo Chiba, who made a statement to the Commission about his experience of torture while held under the ninety-day detention act (see above), was involved in the second major MK trial which began on 30 October 1964. The accused included Mr David Kitson, Mr Sathyandranath (Mac) R Maharaj, Mr John Matthews and Mr Wilton Mkwayi. All five were convicted of more than fifty acts of sabotage, preparing for guerrilla warfare and furthering the aims of Communism. Wilton Mkwayi was sentenced to life imprisonment, David Kitson to twenty years, Laloo Chiba to eighteen years, John Matthews to fifteen years and Mac Maharaj to twelve years.7

71 The trial of Mr Bram Fischer was primarily an attempt to remove and imprison the leadership of the SACP. On 26 August 1964, Bram Fischer, a senior lawyer who had led the defence of the Rivonia trialists, and fourteen other people were arrested and charged with having furthered the aims of the SACP or being office-bearers, officers, or members of the party. The charge sheet alleged that they aimed at “establishing a despotic government based on the dictatorship of the proletariat” in South Africa. A number of those charged had been held under the ninety-day detention law and complained of ill treatment. One of these, Ms Sylvia Neame, was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment for trying to escape from custody. The other accused were Mr Louis Baker, Ms Esther Barsel, Mr Hymie Barsel, Ms Mollie Doyle, Ms Florence Duncan, Dr Costa Gazides, Mr Norman Levy, Ms Jean Middleton, Ms Ann Nicholson, Mr Ivan F Schermbrucker, Mr Paul Trewhela and Mr Eli Weinberg.

72 In April 1965, after they had been in custody for nearly a year, the fifteen were sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from one to five years.

73 Ms Jean Middleton [JB04419/01GTSOW] testified at the Commission’s special hearings on prisons about the conditions at Barberton prison where she and other white, female political detainees spent their prison terms:

When you speak about Barberton, what you really have to speak about is the brutality of the place … Through a window, we used to see women, black women prisoners, carrying things sometimes. However fast they tried to run, the wardresses would urge them on by whipping them with those long leather straps attached to their keys and sometimes there would be a baby on a woman’s back so the baby got whipped …
Worst of all were the shirts we used to wash, those came from the men’s jail, they used to come in every Monday and at least one shirt and one pair of shorts every week (and they only got one clean shirt a week and they did very hard work it seemed in a hot climate) would not be stained with blood, but caked with blood from clogging and that sulphur ointment, caked.

74 In 1969, twenty-two people – including Ms Nomzamo Winnie Mandela, Ms Rita Ndzanga, Mr Lawrence Ndzanga, Ms Venus Mngoma and Ms Martha Dlamini, Mr Peter Magubane, Joyce Sikhakhane, Joseph Zikalala, George Mokwebo, David Motau and others in the trial of Sampson Ndou8 [CT03064/GAU] and others in 1969, twenty-two people appeared on charges under the Suppression of Communism Act relating to ANC activities.

75 Pholotho was one of the accused in this trial and confirmed the allegations that witnesses were tortured. He was detained and interrogated on 4 May 1969 in Pretoria, where he was tortured in a room without windows. He was deprived of sleep for ninety hours, made to stand on unbalanced bricks while his hands were handcuffed to the rafters. He was also kicked and punched all over his body and electric shocks were used.

76 As a result of allegations of torture made by Ms Shanti Naidoo, Samuel Solomon Pholotho and others [JB05956/01GTSOW], the Attorney-General stopped the trial, discharging all of the twenty-two accused. Before they had left the court, they were re-detained under the Terrorism Act, and held for periods ranging from 107 to 371 days. Student protests and public vigils demanding that the twenty-two accused be charged or released were launched all over the country. The government charged nineteen of them with conspiring with the ANC and SACP to overthrow the government by violence. This time the charges were brought under the Terrorism Act. Mr Benjamin Ramotse, who had been in captivity for a far longer period, became the first defendant and the state attempted to use the joinder provision of the Terrorism Act to link him to the others. All except Benjamin Ramotse were The nineteen were acquitted and discharged after the defendants proved that the charges brought against them were substantially the same as those they had already been tried for. On this occasion, Mr Benjamin Ramotse, Almost immediately after the second trial, all nineteen of those acquitted were issued with banning orders.9

4 South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) Survey, 1960. 5 SAIRR Survey, 1960. 6 SAIRR Survey, 1964. 7 SAIRR Survey, 1964. 8 Sampson Ndou was chosen as first defendant so that the name Mandela would not appear on the court records.
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