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The speech from the dock
An edited version of Nelson Mandela's famous four-and-a-half hour speech from the dock during the Rivonia Trial.
The speech from the dock
The speech from the dock

An edited version of Nelson Mandela's famous four-and-a-half hour speech from the dock during the Rivonia Trial, in which he spelt out the credo of the ANC, its relationship to the Communist Party, and explained why he had turned to armed struggle.

My lord, I am the first accused. I hold a Bachelor's degree in Arts and practiced as an attorney in Johannesburg for a number of years, in partnership with Mr Oliver Tambo.

I am convicted prisoner, serving five years for leaving the country without a permit, and for inciting people to go on strike at the end of May 1961.

I admit immediately that I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto weSizwe, and that I played a prominent role in its affairs until I was arrested in August 1962.

At the outset, I want to say that the suggestion made by the state in its opening that the struggle in South Africa is under the influence of foreigners or communists is wholly incorrect.

I have done whatever I did, both as an individual and as a leader of my people, because of my experience in South Africa, and my own proudly felt African background, and not because of what any outsider might have said. In my youth in the Transkei, I listened to the elders of my tribe telling stories of the old days.

Amongst the tales they related to me were those of wars fought by our ancestors in defence of the fatherland. The names of Dingane and Bambata, Hintsa and Makana, Squngathi and Dalasile, Moshoeshoe and Sekhukhuni, were praised as the pride and the glory of the entire African nation.

I hoped then that offer me the opportunity to serve my people and make my own humble contribution to their freedom struggle. This is what has motivated me in all that I have done in relation to the charges made against me in this case.

I did not plan sabotage in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love for violence.
Some of the things so far told to the court are true and some are untrue. I do not, however, deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love for violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation and oppression of my people by the whites.

We believe that that as a result of government policy, violence by the African people had become inevitable.
I have already mentioned that I was one of the persons who helped to form Umkhonto, I, and the others who started the organisation, did so for two reasons.

Firstly, we believed that as a result of government policy, violence by the African people had become inevitable, and that unless responsible leadership was given to catalyse and control the feelings of our people, there would be outbreaks of terrorism which would produce an intensity of bitterness and hostility between the various races of this country which is not produced even by war.

Secondly, we felt that without sabotage there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy.

All lawful modes of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation in and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or to defy the government.

We chose to defy the government. We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and when the government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer violence with violence. But the violence which we chose to adopt was not terrorism.

We who formed Umkhonto were all members of the African National Congress, and had behind us the ANC tradition of non-violence and negotiation as a means of solving political disputes. We believed that South Africa belonged to all the people who lived in it, and not to one group, be it black or white.

We did not want an inter-racial war, and tried to avoid it to the last minute. If the court is in doubt about this, it will be seen that the whole history of our organisation bears out what I have said, and what I will subsequently say, when I describe the tactics which Umkhonto decided to adopt. I want, therefore, to say something about the African National Congress.

For 37 years the ANC adhered strictly to a constitutional struggle.
The African National Congress was formed in 1912 to defend the rights of the African people which had been seriously curtailed by the South Africa Act, and which was then being threatened by the Native Land Act.

For 37 years, that is until 1949, it adhered strictly to a constitutional struggle. It put forward demands and resolutions, it sent delegations to the government in the belief that African grievances could be settled through peaceful discussion and that Africans could advance gradually to full political rights. But white governments remained unmoved, and the rights of Africans became less instead of becoming greater.

In the words of my leader, Chief Luthuli, who became president of the ANC in 1952, and who was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (I quote): "Who will deny that 30 years of my life have been spent knocking in vain, patiently, moderately and modestly at a closed and barred door? What have been the fruits of moderation? The past 30 years have seen the greatest number of laws restricting out rights and progress, until today we have reached a stage where we have almost no rights at all."

Even after 1949 the ANC remained determined to avoid violence. At this time, however, there was a change from the strictly constitutional means of protest which had been employed in the past.

The change was embodied in a decision which was taken to protest against apartheid legislation by peaceful, but unlawful, demonstrations against certain laws. Pursuant to this policy the ANC launched the Defiance Campaign, in which I was placed in charge volunteers.

The campaign was based on the principles of passive resistance. More than 8 500 people defied apartheid laws and went to gaol. Yet there was not a single instance of violence in the course of this campaign on the part of any defier.

I, and 19 colleagues, were convicted for the role which we played in organising the campaign, and this conviction was under the Suppression of Communism Act although our campaign had nothing to do with communism, but our sentences were suspended, mainly because the judge found that discipline and non-violence had been stressed through-out.

This was the time when the volunteer section of the ANC was established, and when the word 'Amadelakufa” was first used: this was the time when the volunteers were asked to take a pledge to uphold certain principles.

Evidence dealing with volunteers and their pledges have been introduced into this case, but completely out of context. The volunteers were not, and are not, the soldiers of a black army pledged to fight a civil war against the whites.

They were, and are, the dedicated workers who are prepared to lead campaigns initiated by the ANC, to distribute leaflets, to organise strikes, or to do whatever the particular campaign required. They are called volunteers because they volunteer to face the penalties of imprisonment and whipping which are prescribed by the legislature for such acts.

The ANC is not and never has been a communist organisation.
During Defiance Campaign, the Public Safety Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act were passed. These statutes provided harsher penalties for offences committed by way of protests against laws. Despite this, the protests continued and the ANC adhered to its policy of non-violence.

In 1956, 156 leading members of the Congress Alliance, including myself, were arrested on a charge of high treason and charges under the Suppression of Communism Act.

The non-violent policy of the ANC was put in issue by the state, but when the court gave judgement some five years later, it found that the ANC did not have a policy of violence. We were acquitted on all counts, which included a count that the ANC sought to set up a communist state in place of the existing regime.

The government has always sought to label all its opponents as communists. This allegation has been repeated in the present case, but as I will show, the ANC is not, and never has been, a communist organisation.

In 1960 there was the shooting at Sharpeville, which resulted in the proclamation of a State of Emergency and the declaration of the ANC as an unlawful organisation. My colleagues and I, after careful consideration, decided that we would not obey this decree.

The African people were not part of the government, and did not make the laws by which they were governed. We believed in the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that "the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of the government”, and for us to accept the banning was equivalent to accepting the silencing of the Africans to all time.

The ANC refused to dissolve, but instead went underground. We believed it was our duty to preserve this organization which had been built up with almost 50 years of unremitting toil.

I have no doubt that no self-respecting white political organization would disband itself if declared illegal by a government in which it had no say. My lord, I would like now to deal with the immediate causes leading to the formation of Umkhonto.

In 1960 the government held a referendum which led to the establishment of a republic. Africans, who constituted approximately 70 percent of the population of South Africa, were not entitled to vote, and were not even consulted about the proposed constitutional change.

All of us were apprehensive about our future under the proposed white republic, and a resolution was taken to hold an All-In African Conference to call for a National Convention, and to organize mass demonstrations on the eve of the unwanted republic, it the government failed to call the convention. The conference was attended by Africans of various persuasions.

I was the honorary secretary of the conference, and undertook to be responsible for organising the national stay-at-home which was subsequently called to coincide with the declaration of the republic.

As all strikes by Africans are illegal, the person organising such a strike must avoid arrest. I was chosen to be this person, and consequently I had to leave my home and my family and my practice and go into hiding to avoid arrest.

The stay-at-home was to be peaceful: the government introduced new and harsher laws.
The stay-at-home, in accordance with ANC policy, was to be a peaceful demonstration. Careful instructions were given to organisers and members to avoid any recourse to violence. The government's answer was to introduce new and harsher laws, to mobilise its armed forces, and to send Saracens, armed vehicles and soldiers into the townships in a massive show of force to intimidate the people. This was an indication that the government had decided to rule by force alone, and this decision was a milestone on the road to Umkhonto.

We felt the country was drifting towards civil war -- sabotage was planned to avoid civil war.
Umkhonto was formed in November 1961. When we took this decision, and subsequently formulated our plans, the ANC heritage of non-violence and racial harmony was very much with us.

We felt that the country was drifting towards civil war in which blacks and whites would fight each other. We viewed the situation with alarm. Civil war would mean the destruction of the ANC stood for, with civil war racial peace would be more difficult that ever to achieve.

The avoidance of civil war had dominated out thinking for many years, but when we decided to adopt sabotage as part of our policy, we realized that we might one day have to face the prospect of such a war. This had to be taken into account in formulating our thinking.

We required a plan which was flexible, and which permitted us to act in accordance with the needs of the times; above all, the plan had to be one which recognised civil war as the last resort, and left the decision on this question to the future. We did not want to be committed to civil war, but we wanted to be ready if it became inevitable.

Four forms of violence are possible. There is sabotage, there is guerilla warfare, there is terrorism and there is open revolution. We chose to adopt the first method and to test it fully before taking any other decision.

In the light of our political background, the choice was a logical one. Sabotage did not involve loss of life, and it offered the best hope for future race relations. Bitterness would be kept to a minimum and, if the policy bore fruit, democratic government could become a reality.

The objects of the ANC and the Communist Party are different. The Freedom Charter is by no means a blueprint for a nationalist state.
The allegation that the aims and objects of the ANC and the Communist Party are the same ... is false. This is an old allegation which was disproved at the Treason Trial, and which has again reared its head.

The ideological creed of the ANC is, and always has been, the creed of African Nationalism. It is not the concept of African Nationalism expressed in the cry "Drive the white man into the sea”.

The African Nationalism for which the ANC stands is the concept of freedom and fulfillment for the African people in their own land.

The most important political document ever adopted by the AINC is the Freedom Charter. It is by no means a blueprint for a socialist state.

It calls for redistribution, but not nationalisation, of land, it provides for nationalisation of mines, banks and monopoly industry, because big monopolies are owned by one race only, and without such nationalisation racial domination would be perpetuated despite the spread of political power.

It would be a hollow gesture to repeal the Gold Law prohibitions against Africans when all gold mines are owned by European companies. In this respect the ANC's policy corresponds with the old policy of the present Nationalist Party which, for many years, had as part of its programme the nationalisation of the gold mines which, at that time, were controlled by foreign capital.

Under the Freedom Charter, nationalisation would take place in an economy based on private enterprise. The realisation of the Freedom Charter would open up fresh fields for a prosperous African population of all classes, including the middle-class.

The ANC has never at any period of its history advocated a revolutionary change in the economic structure of the country, nor has it, to the best of my recollection, ever condemned capitalist society.

I believe that communists have always played an active role in the fight by colonial countries for their freedom.
As far as the Communist Party is concerned, and if I understand its policy correctly, it stands for the establishment of a state based on the principles of Marxism.

Although it is prepared to work for the Freedom Charter, as a short-term solution to the problems created by white supremacy, it regards the Freedom Charter as the beginning, and not the end, of its programme.

The Communist Party seeks to emphasize class distinctions, whilst the ANC seeks to harmonise them. This is a vital distinction, my lord. It is true that there has often been close co-operation between the and the Communist Party.

But co-operation is merely proof of a common goal -- in this case the removal of white supremacy -- and is not proof of a complete community of interests.

My lord, the history of the world is full of similar examples. Perhaps the most striking illustration is to be found in the cooperation between Great Britain, the United States of America and the Soviet Union in the fight against Hitler.

Nobody but Hitler would have dared to suggest that such co-operation turned Churchill or Roosevelt into communists or communist tools, or that Britain and America were working to bring about a communist world.

I believe that communists have always played an active role in the fight by colonial countries for their freedom, because the short-term objects of communism would always correspond with the long-term objects of freedom movements.

Thus communists, my lord, have played an important role in the freedom struggles fought in countries such as Malaya, Algeria and Indonesia, yet none of these states today are communist countries.

I am not a communist and I have never been a member of the Communist Party. We count communists as among those who support our cause.
There are many Africans who, today tend to equate freedom with communism. They are supported in this belief by a legislature which brands all exponents of democratic government and African freedom as communists, and bans those, who are not communists, under the Suppression of Communist Act.

Although my lord I am not a communist, I have never been a member of the Communist Party, I myself have been named under that pernicious Act because of the role I played in the Defiance Campaign. I have also been banned and convicted under that Act.

It is not only in internal politics that we count communists as amongst those who support our cause. In the international field, communist countries have always come to our aid.

In the United Nations and other councils of the world, the communist bloc has supported the Afro-Asian struggle against colonialism and often seems be more sympathetic to our plight than some of the Western powers.

Although there is a universal condemnation of apartheid, the communist bloc speaks out against it with a louder voice than most of the Western world. In these circumstances it would take a brash young politician, such as I was in 1949, to proclaim that the communists are our enemies.

I have denied that I am a communist, and I think in the circumstances 1 am obliged to state exactly what my political beliefs are.

I have always regarded myself, in the first place, as an African patriot.
After all, I was born in Umtata 46 years ago.

My guardian was my cousin, who was the acting paramount chief of Tembuland. I am related both to the present paramount chief of Tembuland Sabata Dalindyebo, and to Kaiser Matanzima, the Chief Minister of the Transkei.

Today I am attracted by the idea of a classless society, an attraction which springs in part front Marxist reading and, in part, from my admiration of the structure and organisation of early African societies in this country.

The land, then the main means of production, belonged to the tribe. There were no rich or poor, and there was no exploitation.It is true, as I have already stated, that I have been influenced by Marxist thought, but this is also true of many of the leaders of the new independent states.

Such widely different persons as Gandhi, Nehru, Nkrumah and Nasser all acknowledge this fact. We all accept the need for some form of socialism to enable our people to catch up with the advanced countries of the world and to overcome their legacy of extreme poverty. But this does not mean we are Marxists.

Communists regard the parliamentary of the West as undemocratic and reactionary. I am an admirer of such a system. I regard the British parliament as the most democratic institution in the world.
Indeed, my lord, for my own part I believe that it is open to debate whether the Communist Party has any specific role to play as this particular stage of our political struggle.

The basic task at the present moment is the removal of race discrimination and the attainment of democratic rights on the basis of Freedom Charter and the struggle can best be led by a strong ANC.

Insofar as that party furthers this task, I welcome its assistance. I realise that it is one of the main means by which people of all races can be drawn into our struggle.

But from my reading of Marxist literature and from conversation with Marxists, I have gained the impression that communists regard the parliamentary system of the West as undemocratic and reactionary.

But, on the contrary, I am an admirer of such a system. I have great respect for British political institutions, and for the country's system of justice. I regard the British parliament as the most democratic institution in the world.