The apartheid state's legal stunt

The opening of legal proceeding against Israel on charges of genocide at the instigation of South Africa in the International Court of Justice, recalls a legal stunt by the apartheid state, though one far from farcical.

The apartheid state's legal stunt
Fighters against apartheid

Sometimes a Wikipedia excerpt can be good for some things, such as jolting our memories, or helping us see a connection that escaped us. Try, for example:

The Rivonia Trial was a trial that took place in apartheid-era South Africa between 9 October 1963 and 12 June 1964, after a group of anti-apartheid activists were arrested on Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia. The farm had been the secret location for meetings of uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the newly-formed armed wing of the African National Congress. The trial took place in Pretoria at the Palace of Justice and the Old Synagogue and led to the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Denis Goldberg, Raymond Mhlaba, Elias Motsoaledi, Andrew Mlangeni. Many were convicted of sabotage and sentenced to life.

The Rivonia Trial took its name from Rivonia, a suburb of Johannesburg. Various people and groups, including the African National Congress and Communist Party of South Africa, had been using Liliesleaf Farm, owned by Arthur Goldreich, as a hideout. Nelson Mandela moved onto the farm in October 1961 and evaded security police while masquerading as a gardener and cook called David Motsamayi. He was arrested on 5 August 1962 without the farm having been discovered.

On 11 July 1963, the farm was raided by the South African Police. Lionel Bernstein, Denis Goldberg, Arthur Goldreich, Bob Hepple, Abdulhay Jassat, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Moosa Moolla, Elias Motsoaledi, Walter Sisulu and Harold Wolpe were all arrested by. They were detained under the General Law Amendment Act No 37 of 1963, which allowed for detention of up to ninety days. Other key leaders such as Oliver Tambo, Moses Kotane, Joe Slovo, Moses Mabhida, Stephen Dlamini, Joe Modise, Alfred Nzo, Wilton Mkwayi and others were not at the farm at the time of the arrests.

The arrest of the MK high command members resulted in them being sentenced to life imprisonment, to others being arrested and to others going into exile.


Goldberg, Bernstein, Wolpe, Kantor, and Goldreich were Jewish South Africans; Hepple was of English descent on his father's side and Dutch and Jewish on his mother's; Jassat, Kathrada, Moolla were Indian Muslims; Mandela, Mbeki and Mhlaba were Xhosa people; Motsoaledi and Mlangeni were Sothos and Sisulu was Xhosa (he had an English father and a Xhosa mother).

The leaders who were prosecuted in the Rivonia Trial also included Mandela, who was in Pretoria Local prison, where he was serving a five-year sentence for inciting workers to strike – trade unions were illegal for black workers – and leaving the country illegally.

The government took advantage of legal provisions allowing for accused persons to be held for 90 days without trial, and the defendants were held incommunicado. Withstanding beatings and torture, Goldreich, Jassat, Moolla and Wolpe escaped from jail on 11 August. Their escape infuriated the prosecutors and police, who considered Goldreich to be "the arch-conspirator".


If you are still having difficulty recalling the apartheid state's legal stunt, there are some South Africans currently in the Hague who might be able to help.

Picture credits:

Velvet - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Cvanrooyen - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,