“During my lifetime I even have dedicated myself to the present struggle of the African people. I even have fought against white domination and that i have fought against black domination. I even have cherished the perfect of a democratic and free society during which all persons live together consonant and with equal opportunities. it’s a perfect which I hope to measure for and to realize . But if needs be, it’s a perfect that i’m prepared to die.”
There was complete silence within the courtroom after Mandela uttered these famous words within the Palace of Justice in Pretoria on April 20 1964. The genesis of the trial had been a police raid on Liliesleaf farm in Rivonia on July 11 1963, where Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada and other antiapartheid leaders were arrested. that they had used Liliesleaf as a gathering place to plot acts of sabotage but had become lax and police found 200 incriminating documents during the raid.
The most important piece of evidence was a document named Operation Mayibuye, an in depth plan for insurrection which had been lying open on a table. there have been also chemicals and other items of bomb-making equipment and 106 maps pinpointing the situation of police stations, army bases, railway lines and other potential targets. All this was overwhelming evidence to secure the death sentence.
Mandela and therefore the other defendants believed hanging was the foremost likely outcome. that they had been warned of this real possibility by their defence team. many people faced the death sentence at the time of the trial and lesser crimes had been punished by hanging. Warders never let Mandela forget he might die. “Mandela, you do not need to worry about sleep. you’re getting to sleep for an extended , long time.”
The leader of the defence team was Bram Fischer, perhaps the foremost admired advocate within the Johannesburg bar and one among the best legal brains in SA. He was also descended from Afrikaner “royalty”, which made him the simplest possible option to represent the accused. What the state didn’t know was that he was a number one member of the banned South African Communist Party and it had been only through chance that he wasn’t at Liliesleaf at the time of the arrests.
George Bizos was one among the brilliant young lawyers within the defence team. Since becoming an advocate in 1954, Bizos had handled more political cases than the other lawyer.
It was decided that Mandela, as accused
No 1, would use the trial to form a speech about the oppression of black people and to detail how any opposition to apartheid had been met with an control . He would admit to committing sabotage, but only as a final resort against tyranny. This was a really risky strategy because it was reason enough for Judge Quartus de Wet to hold him.
When it came to composing Mandela’s dramatic closing remarks, Bizos insisted that he insert the words “if needs be”. He felt strongly that to go away them out would go away De Wet with little option but to impose the death sentence.
Just three words changed the road to freedom for Mandela and SA forever.