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On the anniversary of the sentencing to life in prison of the Rivonia trialists, they will be honoured as being in the highest order of South Africa’s heroes.
IF it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die – these were the words with which Nelson Mandela wrapped up his defence in the Rivonia Trial, in 1963, in which he and nine other ANC leaders had been charged with sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the state violently.

Walter SisuluWalter SisuluThe trial attracted worldwide attention and intensified political turmoil and the struggle for liberation – and it changed the course of South African history.
Now, 48 years later, the National Heritage Council, the Department of Arts and Culture and the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA) are hosting an awards ceremony and dinner to honour some of the living heroes of the Rivonia Trial. The dinner is on Sunday, 12 June in Sandton.

The awards will serve as a build up to the 50th anniversary of the founding of Umkhonto we Sizwe on 16 December. “This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the people’s glorious army, Umkhonto we Sizwe [MK], and as such the MKMVA are proud to honour the trialists who happened to be the first commanders of MK,” said Kebby Maphatsoe, the chairperson of the veterans’ group.

President Jacob Zuma will deliver the keynote address at the awards ceremony, and present four of the living Rivonia trialists, Andrew Mlangeni, Denis Goldberg, Nelson Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada, with honorary awards. Family members of the deceased trialists will also be present to receive posthumous awards for their relatives.

Ahmed Kathrada during a visit to Roben IslandAhmed Kathrada during a visit to Robben IslandCharged in the Rivonia Trial were Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Kathrada, Rusty Bernstein, Goldberg, James Kantor, Mlangeni, Elias Motsoaledi and Raymond Mhlaba.
Some of them were arrested during a police raid of Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, in northern Joburg. The farm had been bought by the South African Communist Party in 1961 as its headquarters. It is now a museum.

In the raid, police confiscated all documents belonging to Umkhonto we Sizwe, one of which had been Operation Mayibuye, a plan to switch to violence to overthrow the apartheid government.

Mandela was already on Robben Island, serving a five-year jail sentence for inciting workers to strike and for leaving the country without a passport.

Before his arrest, Mandela had been in hiding for over 17 months, some of it spent at Liliesleaf, and had travelled to many African countries, seeking advice and raising money to buy weapons to prepare for an armed struggle.

Elias MotsoalediElias MotsoalediUnder the newly enacted General Law Amendment Act of 1962 and the Suppression of Communism Act, some of the defendants faced the death penalty. However, Judge Quartus de Wet handed down four life sentences to eight of the 10 accused instead. Bernstein and Kantor were acquitted and the rest we flown to Robben Island to start their sentences.
While in hiding at Liliesleaf, Mandela had lived in disguise, masquerading as a gardener and cook, David Motsamayi, the name of one of his former clients.

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, he recounts: “Liliesleaf was an old house that needed work and no one lived there. I moved in under the pretext that I was a houseboy or caretaker that would live there until my master took possession. I had taken the alias David Motsamayi, the name of one of my former clients.”

Explaining the decision to honour the trialists, Maphatsoe said: “Many of those that were on the dock in the Rivonia Trial rank in the highest order of South Africa’s heroes, and it is fitting that their achievements be recognised by South Africa.”

Sentencing in the Rivonia Trial began on 12 June 1964 and the honorary dinner and awards are being held on the same day to commemorate the historic event. “The evening is intended to highlight the contribution to South Africa’s freedom by a range of heroes who dedicated their lives to achieve South Africa’s democracy and freedom,” Maphatsoe added.

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