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Treason trial tapes shed light on pivotal case

Publish date: 12 March 2018
Issue Number: 765
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Category: South Africa

South Africa's Rivonia Trial, which saw the imprisonment of anti-apartheid activists including Nelson Mandela, has taken on huge significance in the story of the country's struggle for freedom. Now, more than 60 years later, the 300 hours of proceedings are available for the first time. The trial, which lasted from October 1963 to June 1964, has been well documented as a pivotal point in the fight against the white minority government in South Africa. The BBC's Gavin Fischer, who is the nephew of acclaimed defence attorney Bram Fischer, notes that the trial is now ‘steeped in a kind of myth, part of the great story of South Africa's journey to freedom’. ‘Being given access to the newly digitised tapes, I have been able to go back to a time before tragedy overtook Bram's life. It's been my first chance to hear him speak. Polite to all he addresses, his calm tones are shot through with a seam of fierce authority.’ Fischer notes that the new recordings give the opportunity to hear some of the journey's most famous moments. ‘There's the searing power of Mandela's speech, Walter Sisulu's impressive philosophical outwitting of the prosecutor, Elias Motsoaledi's humble but striking detailing of the life of black people in South Africa, and even the defiant humour of Ahmed Kathrada and Denis Goldberg.’

Full analysis on the BBC News site