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Honour for Rivonia treason accused

Written by Mbulelo Baloyi

History

The Department of Arts and Culture together with its public entity, the National Heritage Council has honoured the four surviving Rivonia treason accused 48 years after they had been sentenced to life.

During the ceremony held at the Sandton Convention Centre recently, President Jacob Zuma also honoured the four surviving former accused and said for Government, Lilliesleaf Farm and the subsequent Rivonia Trial is an important part of South Africa's liberation heritage.

The famous Rivonia Trial drew worldwide attention to the former South African government's policy of racial segregation. The trial also changed the course of South African history.

The awards ceremony to honour some of the surviving former accused in the Rivonia Treason Trial had been planned to take place on 11 June – exactly 48 years to the day they had been sentenced. However, the ceremony had to be postponed to 11 July, due to the death of Albertina Sisulu, wife of the late anti-apartheid struggle veteran Walter Sisulu.

Still living

Of the original accused in the famous treason trial, only four are still live. These are former President Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, Dennis Goldberg and Andrew Mlangeni. Charged with the four were Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Rusty Bernstein, Wilton Mkwayi, Raymond Mhlaba, James Kantor, and Elias Motsoaledi.

Of the ten originally accused, only Bernstein and Kantor were not found guilty while the rest were sentenced to life. All the convicted accused except Goldberg were imprisoned on the Robben Island where they spent more than 20 years of their sentences before they were moved inland at Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town.

Posthumous awards

Family members of the accused who have since passed on will receive posthumous awards on behalf of their relatives.

Some of them were arrested during a police raid of Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia in northern Johannesburg. The South African Communist Party (SACP) bought the in 1961 as its headquarters.

The farm is now a museum among the many other museums including the Nelson Mandela Museums under the National Heritage Council and the Arts and Culture Department.

In the raid, police found all documents belonging to Umkhonto we Sizwe, one of which had been Operation Mayibuye, a plan to change to violence to overthrow the apartheid government.

Heroism

The Arts and Culture Department and the National Heritage Council have jointly planned the awards ceremony with the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA).

MKMVA Chairperson Mr Kebby Maphatsoe said the decision to honour those charged with the Rivonia High Treason trial was in recognition of their heroism.

"The awards ceremony will highlight the contribution to South Africa's freedom by a range of heroes who dedicated their lives to achieve South Africa's democracy and freedom," Maphatsoe added.