Trio recall their arrest 50 years agoComment on this story
Johannesburg - There are just four of them left, and only three of them are walking.
Half-a-century ago today, they were a part of an event that was to change South African history.
On July 11, 1963, police raided Liliesleaf farm in Rivonia, north of Joburg. And, in a single blow, they captured the entire ANC leadership.
The four were later to be part of the Rivonia Trial, and today they were expected to be back at the place where it all began.
But one of their number will be missing.
Nelson Mandela, or accused number one as he was to become known, lies in hospital.
“It would have been so wonderful if he could have been here, he is really going to be missed,” Denis Goldberg said on Wednesday.
The other two trial survivors are Ahmed Kathrada and Andrew Mlangeni.
Joining the trio will be Bob Hepple, who - had he not escaped - would have been in the dock with the others.
Thursday’s events will include the launch of a medallion to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the raid, the escape from Marshall Square police station in central Joburg and the trial. There will be a gala event in the evening.
But for many there it will be a time to reflect on when they were young people committed to a cause still in its infancy.
“The Rivonia Trial lit the prairie fire that ended apartheid,” explained Goldberg.
But it all started with the raid in Sleepy Hollow, near Rivonia.
Liliesleaf had by 1963 become the headquarters of the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, and was a place where its leaders would often take refuge.
On that day, police - hidden in a laundry van - drove up to the farm and launched their raid.
Those arrested included Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Arthur Goldreich; the final tally was 17.
Security forces said they had hit the jackpot. But defeat, said Goldberg, turned to victory when the trial began.
“The significance of Liliesleaf and the raid is that even though it knocked us sideways for a while, the trial put the apartheid government on trial, transforming the way the judge, the media, the world saw the liberation movement,” explained Goldberg.
A man who watched from the sidelines will also be commemorating the 50th anniversary on Thursday.
Ron Anderson was The Star’s crime reporter in 1963. He was tasked with covering the Rivonia Trial
. It was the biggest trial of his career.
“This was unheard of. It was a demonstration of Afrikaner nationalist power,” Anderson recalled.
Even as a journalist, he experienced the paranoia of the state. At weekends, security branch police would drive past his house, checking who was visiting him.
The trial gave Anderson an unlikely scoop - a lowly orderly at the Palace of Justice in Pretoria offered him a copy of the verdict for R10. As Judge Quartus de Wet read the judgment, The Star would publish it.
* To read more about Liliesleaf and the Rivonia Trial, check out today’s special supplement.