Picture:Courtesy of Maniben Sita Collection/Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory

Fifty years ago on November 7, Nelson Mandela was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison for leaving the country illegally and inciting workers to strike. After 17 months underground, the man dubbed by the media “The Black Pimpernel”, was arrested at a roadblock on Sunday, August 5, 1962.

During this time he had spent about seven months abroad. His clandestine trip took in visits to more than a dozen African countries and England and aimed to raise support and money for the newly formed armed wing of the ANC and to secure military training for himself.

Mandela was charged, convicted and sentenced within three months of his arrest. The charge of leaving the country illegally, without a passport was related to his clandestine trip, which he began through Botswana on January 11, 1962.

The charge of incitement related to his role in organising a strike for May 29, 30 and 31, 1962 against South Africa becoming a republic. He was sentenced to three years for incitement and two years for leaving the country illegally.

Contrary to popular belief Mandela was not immediately sent to Robben Island. He served the first seven months of his sentence in Pretoria Local Prison. He only went to Robben Island in May 1963, but was suddenly transferred back to Pretoria in mid-June 1963, two weeks before the raid on Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia netted his comrades.

With them, and other comrades arrested elsewhere, he was put on trial later that year for sabotage.

On June 12, 1964 at the end of the Rivonia Trial Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Govan Mbeki, Denis Goldberg, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni and Elias Motsoaledi were sentenced to life imprisonment.

While Mandela’s 27-and-a- half years in prison is calculated from his arrest on August 5, 1962, as he was in custody from then until his release on February 11, 1990, his first conviction for which he had to serve a prison sentence was on November 7, 1962. To mark this less highlighted, but important trial, the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory plans to launch an exhibition on it when our refurbished new building is formally opened to the public in mid-2013.

“It is the task of the team at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory not only to document and manage Mr Mandela’s personal archive, but to unearth new information and artefacts about his life and times,” said Verne Harris, Head of the Memory Programme at the Centre. “As we discover fresh information we will keep updating our public platforms.”

The Nelson Mandela Foundation building at 107 Central Street in Houghton, Johannesburg, which houses Mandela’s post-presidential office, is undergoing extensive refurbishment to repurpose it into an archive and dialogue facilitating.

This marks the final phase of a five-year transition, which will see the building turned into a public facility in mid-2013.

Saturday Star