Johannesburg - Fifty years ago on Sunday, Nelson Mandela stood in the dock during the Rivonia Trial.
He said: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Mandela and nine other men were on trial following a raid at Liliesleaf farm in Rivonia in July 1963.
The speech he made at the Pretoria Supreme Court has become a classic. It was commemorated on Sunday at Liliesleaf, which is now a heritage site.
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, who is chairman of the Liliesleaf Trust, and Rivonia Trial accused Andrew Mlangeni attended the commemoration.
Award-winning actor Sello Maake ka Ncube gave the speech on Sunday as it was delivered by Madiba in 1964.
Musician Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse and his band also performed at the commemoration and sang political songs. They also lightened the mood with the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist’s legendary Burnout as well as jazz tunes.
Speaking to The Star on the importance of such commemorations, Liliesleaf chief executive Nicholas Wolpe said even though the speech was among the most important speeches the world icon ever gave, too little attention was paid to it and other similarly important historic moments.
He said Mandela’s speech, like Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech in August of that same year, were similar in context. Yet, in South Africa, there was very little interest in commemorating Mandela’s speech.
“Martin Luther King’s speech was covered the world over, including by the South African media. You couldn’t get away from news channels on that day… and here we are, we talk about supposedly the greatest 20th century icon, a leader, a man who inspired the whole world even in death, and most probably the most important speech that he ever gave, and there’s very little interest.
“If you think about the context of the speech, when it was given, what was said and you do a comparison between his speech and Martin Luther King’s speech, they’re very similar,” Wolpe said.
“The essence of that speech (by Mandela) goes to the root and the basis of our Struggle. It provided the platform to articulate to not only South Africa, but to the rest of the world, what the essence of our Struggle was all about and what we were trying to achieve, and the objective behind that Struggle. And that is why it’s important that we commemorate it.”
Wolpe said the fact there was little interest in commemorating this event meant it was not too far-fetched to believe that, 20 years from now, Mandela and the others, and what they fought for, would also fizzle out of memory.
He said some young people today were aware of OR Tambo only as the name of an airport, and associated Rivonia only with a main road in Sandton.
“If a speech that he gave 50 years ago is so easily forgotten, what is to say that Nelson won’t be forgotten?” Wolpe asked.