Mandela and the Communist Party

James Myburgh reviews the late President's testimony on the matter in light of the current historical debate


The issue of whether Nelson Mandela was ever a member of the South African Communist Party continues to be a matter of some debate in Western academic circles. In the latest edition of Africa, the journal of the International African Institute 2014, Hugh Macmillan, author of The Lusaka Years: the ANC in exile in Zambia, 1963 to 1994, pushes back against claims that Mandela had been a member of the Party in the early 1960s.

In a highly critical review of Stephen Ellis' External Mission: the ANC in exile, 1960-1990 Macmillan takes issue with Ellis' "suggestion that Nelson Mandela was a member of the SACP from 1960 to 1962". If true, he writes, this would "support the claim that the ANC was little more than a front for the SACP" in exile, something he vehemently disputes in the rest of the review.

Ellis writes, in his book, that according to several SACP sources, Mandela sat on the SACP's Central Committee at the time the Party decided to launch the armed struggle in December 1960. This was six months before the meeting of the ANC National Executive Committee which approved the formation of Umkhonto weSizwe. This account is supported by the evidence published by Irina Filatova & Apollon Davidson in the book The Hidden Thread: Russia and South Africa in the Soviet era (2013).

However, Macmillan notes, Mandela himself "consistently denied [Party membership] from his Treason Trial speech in 1960, through his Rivonia Trial Speech in 1964, to his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, in 1994. The SACP waited until shortly after his death to claim that he was a member of the party and the central committee, but produced no evidence to support this claim, which Mandela would undoubtedly have refuted were he still alive and able to speak for himself."

Although Macmillan concedes that Mandela may well have sat on the SACP's Central Committee he argues that this does not mean he was necessarily a Party member. He writes:

"The lines between the ANC and the SACP were blurred in the illegal underground in the early 1960s - there were no party cards or party lists, and few meetings of more than a handful of people, and it is possible that Mandela attended one or two meetings of the central committee in 1961-1962 in his capacity as commander of MK. He may have been briefly co-opted to the central committee, but that does not mean that he was a member of the party. There is no compelling reason to doubt the word of one of the world's most respected people."

In his reply to the review Stephen Ellis noted: "Mandela always denied being a party member, although he certainly attended top party meetings from 1960 to 1962. Not only the SACP but also the ANC has stated that he was a member of the Communist Party. Many senior communists thought that he was a member, or that he had been ‘recruited', as one former member of the SACP central committee wrote many years later."

Given that, as Ellis has noted, the ANC and SACP have both said that Mandela was with the Party, and some of Mandela's closest comrades have confided the same, this is not a hugely contested issue within South Africa. Part of the reason for this is that the three other post-apartheid Presidents of South Africa had been with the Party at some point or other in the past. However, the issue is nonetheless worth revisiting.

As mentioned by Macmillan Mandela denied Party membership in his Treason Trial evidence, his statement from the dock at the Rivonia Trial, and his published 1994 autobiography. It is worth exploring these statements at some length, as well as the first draft of that autobiography, written in secret on Robben Island in 1975 and smuggled out in 1976.

Treason trial evidence

On September 27 1955 Nelson Mandela's house in Orlando, Johannesburg, was searched by police and various documents seized. Apart from the directly South African political material, these included a booklet headed: "Little Lenin Library: Lenin & Stalin on the State"; a booklet on the Council of the World Federation of Democratic Youth, Peking, August 9 to 15 1954; a pamphlet titled "New Life in China" by Ruth First with a foreword by Walter Sisulu; a notebook with handwritten notes on the "Manifesto of the Communist Party"; and a bulletin of the South African Society for Peace and Friendship with the Soviet Union, September/October 1955.

Just over a year later, on December 5 1956, Mandela was arrested at his Orlando home, on charges of high treason, and his residence and his work premises on 25 Fox Street searched in his presence. A number of documents were seized by the police from his office. These included a loose-leaf foolscap with notes on "Dialectical Materialism" by Maurice Cornforth in Mandela's writing; a pamphlet (originally published in Pravda in March 1956) headed "Why is the cult of the individual alien to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism?"; and a booklet titled "Crisis of Britain and the British Empire: Marxist Study Themes, no. 7".

The latter was a 1953 publication of the Central Education Department of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Its introductory note stated that "This syllabus is meant primarily for use in Branch and group classes over a period of two-three months... As far as possible it should follow on the study of Marxist Study Theme No. 6, on Political Economy, as a certain preliminary knowledge of the nature of capitalism and imperialism is necessary to obtain full benefit."

Other items seized were "Policy towards Nationality of the Peoples Republic of China," Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1953; and two booklets by Mao Tse Tung: "Report of an investigation into the peasant movement in Hoona" and "Combat Liberalism", both of which were published in 1955. Then there was a booklet by Joseph Stalin on Lenin's "Speeches and Articles" (1942); one on "Lenin and Stalin on Propaganda" (1942), another on "Joseph Stalin on the National Question" (1942), a "Report to the 19th Party Congress of the Work of the Central Committee of the CPSU" by G Malenkov (1952); and "Joseph Stalin, Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR", Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1952.

These documents, along with a mass of ANC and related material which had also been seized in the 1955 and 1956 searches, were entered into evidence in early 1957. At the hearing at which this was done counsel for the defence, Bram Fischer, observed that a great deal of literature had not been taken by police. Moreover, he added that "Accused Mandela will say [in relation to his notes on Marxist literature] when he reads he makes notes. For instance, he can remember a pretty bulky set of notes on Walker's history of South Africa."

In evidence led by defence council Sidney Kentridge in the trial itself, in August 1960, Mandela noted that he had first come to work in collaboration with communists on certain issues in 1950, including ANC members who were communists. These included, among others, JB Marks, Moses Kotane, Mr Bopape and Mr Tloome. They had shown themselves to both follow ANC policy and be loyal to it. The following exchange then occurred:

SK: Did you become a Communist?

NM: Well, I don't know if I did become a communist. If by a communist you mean a member of the Communist Party and a person who believes in the theory of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin and who adheres strictly to the discipline of the party, I did not become a communist.

SK: You did not become - you did not join any communist party?

NM: No.

SK: But I understand that later on you began to read Marxism?

NM: That is correct.

Further on in his evidence Mandela commented that, although he had read very little about the system in the Soviet Union, there were many aspects which he found interesting and which had impressed him. These included the absence of the colour bar, the country's opposition to imperialism, the strides it had made in industry and science, the fact that it had no colonies, and the "ideal of the socialist society." Asked whether he would support the imposition of a one party system, as prevailed in the Soviet Union, to South Africa, Mandela responded equivocally. He commented that the circumstances may well be different:

"My lord, it is not a question of form, it is a question of democracy. If democracy would be best served by a one party system, I would examine the proposition very carefully. But if democracy would be best expressed by a multi-party system, then I would examine that carefully."

The key question was which form "would best express the wishes of the people and enable them to participate fully in the government of the country. But I am inclined to feel that I would not, having regard to our conditions here, and the parliamentary tradition we have, I am inclined to feel that I would not insist on a one party system."

He was then asked whether he had made some study of Marxist theory. He replied: "I have studied certain works, but as I say, My Lords, I am not an expert, and my knowledge is very elementary indeed."

The questioning then turned to two notebooks found in his possession by the police - on the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Dialectical Materialism by Maurice Cornforth. Mandela conceded that these were in his handwriting. Asked why he had made these notes he replied that he had made them for his own "personal use and study."

He testified that it was a very difficult subject "and I wanted to understand it thoroughly and my methods when I study anything I regard as important, is to make notes." He added that he had read "one or two books" by Lenin. He also said in his evidence that he was attracted by the idea of a classless society. "I think, My Lords, that a lot of evils arise as a result of the existence of classes, one class exploiting others."

Later on, under cross-examination by Advocate Hoexter for the state, Mandela again emphasised his very limited knowledge of Marxism-Leninism, commenting at one point: "Well, as I indicated, my lords, my own knowledge of Marxism-Leninism is very, very, very elementary indeed."

Mandela was also asked whether the demands of the Freedom Charter - including the demands for partial nationalisation and the re-division of the land - did not lay the initial grounds for progression onwards to the establishment of the (nominally multi-party) "People's Democracies" of the type that then applied in Eastern Europe and China? He replied:

"I have very little information, as I indicated to your lordships about conditions in the Eastern [European people's] democracies. I don't know what the internal conditions are there. But as far as I am concerned, I am in favour of the demands set out in the Freedom Charter, even if they - if their attainment would make our state identical with the states in the Eastern democracies."

Mandela was then questioned over the trajectory of China under Communist Party rule. Hoexter asked whether the transition in that country - where re-distribution of land and partial nationalisation had provided the first step towards a socialist transformation - was the type of transition Mandela foresaw for South Africa were the struggle of the Congress Movement to succeed. Mandela replied:

"I know very little about China, other than that it is a multi-party government working for a classless society. We were not in any way influenced by whatever form of government is being practiced in China when we drew up the Freedom Charter. All that concerned us was that there was an acute demand for land on the part of Africans, and that land must be divided in such a way that Africans have their fair share. It is a practical situation, the solution dictated by practical considerations."

Hoexter then put to Mandela that he had previously admitted, under cross-examination, that a People's Democracy in South Africa could well be of similar or identical form to that prevailing in the People's Republic of China. Mandela replied:

"I am not interested, it may be, it may be like anything, it may be like Russia. But if a solution is fair having regard to our own local conditions, I support it even if it makes our own society identical with the type of society they are building in Russia or in China."

Statement from the dock at the Rivonia Trial

In his four-hour long statement from the dock during the Rivonia Trial on April 20 1964 Mandela dealt with the relationship between the ANC and SACP at length. He again denied either being a Communist or ever having belonged to the Communist Party stating:

"Although my lord I am not a Communist, and I have never been a member of the Communist Party, I myself have been named under that pernicious act [the Suppression of Communism Act] because of the role I played in the Defiance Campaign."

After a court adjournment Mandela returned to this theme, stating: "My lord, I wish now to turn to my own position. I have denied that I am a Communist, and I think in the circumstances I am obliged to state exactly what my political beliefs are in order to explain what my position in Umkonto was, and what my attitude towards the use of force is."

He then went on to explain that he was, first and foremost, an African patriot. He admitted that he, like many leaders of newly independent states, had been influenced by Marxist thought. He was also "attracted by the idea of a classless society" which resembled that of traditional African society.

While earlier Mandela had expressed equanimity, in his Treason Trial evidence, over the prospect of a Soviet-style "People's Democracy" in South Africa, now he emphasised the appeal of the institutions of Western liberal democracy held for him personally. Thus he stated that while Communists regarded the "parliamentary system of the West as undemocratic and reactionary" he, on the contrary, was an "admirer of such a system."

His earlier equivocation on the democrat merits of multi-party parliamentary systems versus the Soviet Union's one party state was now gone. He declared:

"I regard the British Parliament as the most democratic institution in the world, and the independence and impartiality of its judiciary never fail to arouse my admiration. The American Congress, that country's doctrine of separation of power, as well as the independence of its judiciary arouse in me similar sentiments."

His political thought, he said, had been influenced by both West and East. "All this has led me to feel that in my search for a political formula, I should be absolutely impartial and objective. I should tie myself to no particular system of society, other than that of socialism. I must leave myself free to borrow the best from the West and from the East."

He then turned to three exhibits that the police had come across in the raid on Lillieslief farm. These were a Croxley examination pad headed "Part One (How to be a Good Communist)" with 62 pages in his writing; another one headed "Chapter Two (Dialectical Materialism)" with 18 pages in his writing, and 16 foolscap pages headed "Political economy".

In his notes on "How to be a Good Communist" Mandela had written:

"The aim of the SACP is to defeat the Nationalist Government and to free the people of South Africa from the evils of racial discrimination and exploitation and to build a classless or Socialist society in which the land, the mines, the mills and factories be owned by the state. Under a Communist Party Government, South Africa will become a land of milk and honey. Political, economic and social rights will cease to be enjoyed by Whites only. They will be shared equally by Whites and Non-Whites. There will be enough land and houses for all. There will be no unemployment, starvation and disease. Workers will earn decent wages; transport will be cheap and education free. There will be no pass laws, no influx control, no Police raids for passes and poll tax, and Africans, Europeans, Coloureds and Indians will live in racial peace and perfect equality. The victory of Socialism in the U.S.S.R., in the Peoples Republic of China, in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Rumania, where the living conditions of the people were in many respects similar and even worse than ours, proves that we too can achieve this important goal."

In his notes on Dialectical Materialism meanwhile Mandela had commented that there was "nothing sacred or inherently superior about non-violent methods of struggle." As long as these remained effective weapons in the fight for freedom and democracy they should be employed fully. It would be wrong, however, to persist with them "mechanically" once conditions changed. The shift from capitalism to socialism, Mandela suggested, would require revolutionary change. He wrote:

"In our own country capitalism cannot and will not last indefinitely. The people of South Africa, led by the S.A.C.P. will destroy capitalist society and build in its place socialism where there will be no exploitation of man by man, and where there will be no rich and poor, no unemployment, starvation, disease and ignorance. According to the third proposition of dialectical method, the process of development should be understood as an onward and upward movement, as a transition from the lower to the higher and from the simple to the complex. Hence the transition from capitalism to socialism and the liberation of the working class from the yoke cannot be effected by slow changes or by reforms as reactionaries and liberals often advise, but by revolution. One therefore, must be a revolutionary and not a reformist."

These documents, he told the court, were "lectures drafted by my own hand, but they are not my original work." He testified that for many years "an old friend" who held senior positions in both the ANC and SACP had been (unsuccessfully) trying to get him to join the Communist Party.

One day at Lillieslief farm Mandela had seen his friend surrounded by books, busy writing. Mandela had asked him what he was doing, and his friend had said that he was drafting lectures for use in the Communist Party, "and suggested that I should read them." After Mandela had done so "I told him that they were too complicated for the ordinary reader." After some toing and froing, on the matter, Mandela had agreed to try and redraft the lectures in simplified form. He had never managed to complete the task however.

Mandela did not give evidence at trial, and so could not be cross-examined by the prosecution. Given the strength of the state's case against the accused, Mandela's Statement from the Dock can be read as an attempt to place the ANC's artillery on the moral high ground. It was also clearly constructed to appeal to a Western audience.

It is important, at this point, to touch upon the evidence of Mandela's great friend, comrade and co-accused Walter Sisulu at the trial. In his statement, on which his evidence was led, Sisulu stated:

"In my political life I have endeavoured to follow political events at home and abroad. I have observed by my study of the situation that there are two main trends in the world today, namely, capitalist world outlook and socialist world outlook. I would rather have the best of both. I have been influenced in my beliefs by Socialism. I have never been a member of the Communist Party, because I believe that the issue today in South Africa is one of national oppression, and not a class struggle. Where there are haves and have-nots there must be some re-distribution of wealth, otherwise freedom may be meaningless."

The transcript of Advocate Bram Fischer's questioning of Sisulu on the 20th April 1964 reads as follows:

BF: I want you to tell the Court just briefly, what your political views are?

WS: My political views are inspired by the desire to achieve national emancipation for the African people from European domination and oppression. I have expressed these views in meetings and in my residence.

BF: Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?

WS: I have never been.

BF: Have you travelled behind the Iron Curtain?

WS: I have travelled both in the Western Countries as well as in the Eastern countries.

Fischer then turned to where Sisulu stood in relation to the ideological trends of Capitalism and Socialism.

BF: Now Mr. Sisulu, because so much has been said about this in the State Case, I want you to try and make it clear, again as briefly as possible, where you stand in relation to what one might call the two main political trends of this century. The Socialist trend, the Communist trend on the one hand and the Western or Capitalist trend on the other?

WS: I would rather have the best of both. I myself am influenced by Socialism in my outlook.

BF: Is that unusual in this Continent of Africa?

WS: No, I think that that is the attitude adopted by most people in Africa, and other people in the colonial countries.

BF: But what do you regard as the fundamental necessity, at the moment, from your point of view?

WS: Just put that again?

BF: I say what do you regard as the fundamental necessity, the first aim, from your point of view? That is to say from your point of view politically?

WS: The achievement of political rights.

Mandela's prison manuscript

A document that Macmillan does not mention, but which is of considerable significance, is Nelson Mandela's autobiography, secretly written in 1975 on Robben Island and smuggled out of prison by Mac Maharaj on his release from prison in December 1976. Though not published at the time this would provide the basis for much of Mandela's official autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom as published in late 1994.

In the manuscript Mandela explains how from 1950 (?) onwards he had "decided to make a deeper and systematic study of Marxism and immediately tackled the Communist Manifesto, the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and Das Kapital. The first two were relatively simple and contained a wealth of information which was to make me see things in perspective. I found Das Kapital difficult to understand and gave it up. Later I acquired the Selected Works of Marx and Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao Tse Tung and probed the philosophy of dialectical and historical materialism. I also tried to read the publications of the CPSA and related material." He was however hindered, in his reading, by his political activism and part-time legal studies.

He adds that he was later to "embrace dialectical and historical materialism as my philosophy" (Dialectical materialism being the "world outlook of the Marxist-Leninist party", according to Leninist theory.) His reading of Marxist literature, Mandela wrote, "deepened my sense of commitment and brought me closer to members of the Communist Party with whom I often had lengthy discussions on theoretical and practical problems."

Mandela emphasised that, in his mind, there was no contradiction between his African Nationalism and Dialectical Materialism. Indeed they were complementary. "To a nationalist fighting against national oppression dialectical materialism is like a rifle, bomb or missile in the field of battle enabling the army to defend its position and to strike. It is a powerful searchlight on a dark night which enables the traveller to see all round, to detect danger spots and the way forward."

In his accounts of his evidence in the Treason Trial and his statement from the dock in the Rivonia Trial he does not repeat his denials, in court, of Communist Party membership. He does touch upon his account of how he had come to write "How to be a Good Communist." His praise, in court, for the democratic systems of Britain and the United States is not mentioned. In regard to the defence strategy at Rivonia Mandela commented:

"We defended ourselves on the basis of what the enemy knew, on what was unknown to the enemy and on the basis of the political situation in the country as we assessed it. We readily admitted what was known by the enemy to be true but we refused to give away any information we considered dangerous to our case or that might implicate others. To us the outcome of the case was a foregone conclusion and we fought not so much for an acquittal as to let the people of South Africa know that we were planning to overthrow white supremacy through armed revolution."

Mandela's account of his political beliefs in the prison manuscript diverges in important respects from his 1960 and 1964 court testimony. Clearly, his knowledge of Marxism-Leninism was far greater than he let on in his Treason Trial evidence. Equally, his statement that he had made dialectical materialism his philosophy was, essentially, an acknowledgment of his commitment to Marxism-Leninism. It was also an implicit concession that the handwritten documents of his, found by police at Lillieslief farm, were a far greater reflection of his political thought than he had let on in his statement at the Rivonia trial. Although the manuscript does not contain an acknowledgment that he had been a Party member, there is no denial of this either.

However, although the manuscript could be read as a partial acknowledgment of where had actually stood, politically, in the early 1960s it did not go far enough for the South African Communist Party in exile. The manuscript was not published, at the time, apparently due to opposition from Joe Slovo and Yusuf Dadoo who did not believe it sufficiently acknowledged either Mandela's membership of the Party or the Party's (and Slovo's) role in the formation of MK.

After the collapse of communism

In an interview with Howard Barrell in Johannesburg on November 19 1990 Mac Maharaj discussed the role of the SACP in the formation of MK. At one stage Barrell asked Maharaj whether Mandela and Sisulu had been with the Party at the time. The transcript reads as follows:

Is Walter [Sisulu] party?

It's a good question. You tell me. He describes himself as a "scientific socialist" when he's asked if he's [SA Communist] party or not.

Will you switch that off.

[break in tape]


That's too complicated for me [Barrell responding to what has been told him off the record].

Now this is a problem. This is a problem. And, when I discussed it with them in prison, they came to me on their own, and the one [Walter Sisulu] said: If I die, whatever the repercussions, then reveal it [Party membership]. The other [Nelson Mandela] states his position that, in view of the positions he has taken in court, which was a collective decision, then began to bend it in his autobiography, to say he believes in the philosophy of dialectical materialism. But now, again, of course, there are problems there. So, you must be very, very careful with that.

What this suggests, is that while Mandela and Sisulu had been members of the Party (and its Central Committee) in the 1960s there had been a collective decision to deny this at the Rivonia Trial for political reasons. While Sisulu had said that his membership could be acknowledged, after his death, the matter was more complicated for Mandela - even if he had tried to bend the narrative back towards the truth in his prison manuscript - given his past positions in court.

The prison manuscript had been written at a time when Soviet-backed Marxist-Leninist National Liberation Movements were on a triumphal march across the Third World from South Vietnam to Mozambique. By the time the rights to Mandela's autobiography were bought in 1990 for $3 million by the New York based publishing house, Little Brown, the international situation had changed utterly. An acknowledgment of Mandela's past Party membership, in the early to mid-1990s, would have had held significant political and reputational risks for the ANC and Mandela personally. As noted previously A Long Walk to Freedom, re-written with the assistance of the American journalist Richard Stengel, scrubs out (or softens) passages from the original manuscript pointing to Mandela's support for Soviet regimes and his fervently expressed belief in Marxist-Leninist ideology.

While the prison manuscript significantly closed the distance between Mandela's actual and declared political sympathies in the early 1960s, the 1994 autobiography sought once again to once again widen them. In the account of his Treason Trial evidence it reinserted Mandela's denial of Party membership stating:

"The state was determined to prove that I was a dangerous, violence spouting communist. While I was not a communist or a member of the party, I did not want to be seen as distancing myself from my communist allies."

Long Walk to Freedom also mentions Mandela's statement in the Rivonia trial that he was "not a communist." The book does retain significant proportions of the section, from the original manuscript, dealing with Mandela's belief in dialectical materialism. However, it appends a concluding paragraph which dramatically alters its meaning and import:

"I was prepared to use whatever means necessary to speed up the erasure of human prejudice and the end of chauvinistic and violent nationalism. I did not need to become a communist in order to work with them. I find that African nationalists and African communists generally had far more to unite them than to divide them. The cynical have always suggested that the communists were using us. But who is to say that we were not using them?"

By contrast, in the last year of his life Walter Sisulu told his biographer and daughter-in-law, Elinor, of his involvement with the Party. According to his biography, published after his death, Sisulu had been "impressed by the discipline, training and methodology of the communists". During 1954 he had attended a Marxist study group run by Michael Harmel and had "ultimately joined the SACP in 1955, just before the Congress of the People. In the same year, he attended the SACP conference in Johannesburg, and in 1956 he became a member of the Central Committee of the SACP."

No such direct acknowledgment of Mandela's involvement in the Party has been published. However, as noted earlier, the SACP did declare, after his death, that: "At his arrest in August 1962, Nelson Mandela was not only a member of the then underground South African Communist Party, but was also a member of our Party's Central Committee." In its statement on his death the ANC also acknowledged that "Madiba was also a member of the South African Communist Party, where he served in the Central Committee."


Walter Sisulu's hidden membership of the SACP is a useful "control" for assessing Mandela's involvement in the Party. During the Rivonia Trial both denied ever having been members of the Communist Party - the product, presumably, of the same collective decision to not "give away any information we considered dangerous to our case" - and in very similar terms: Both laid emphasis on the attainment of political rights for black Africans (and underplayed any socialist objectives); and both said they would try and borrow the "best of both" from the political systems of East and West. In 1966, while on Robben Island, both would vigorously contest, and successfully fight off, efforts by the liquidator of the Communist Party of South Africa to include them on a list of members and active supporters of the Communist Party.

Yet, as Sisulu acknowledged before his death, those denials were all untrue. The underlying ethic behind them very much the belief that "truth is whatever is useful to the movement."

Macmillan's suggestion that Mandela's co-option onto the Central Committee is no proof of Party membership and that Mandela's word should be taken on the matter is somewhat contradictory. As Mandela never acknowledged that he had served on the SACP Central Committee either, Macmillan is essentially stating that Mandela's word need not be taken on that matter, but should be taken on the issue of party membership.

As Maharaj's comments in 1990 to Barrell indicate, while the matter of past Party involvement was a matter of great secrecy for both Mandela and Walter Sisulu, the complications of disclosure were fewer for the latter than the former. These complications would have been further exacerbated by Mandela's decision to repeat these denials in his published autobiography (1994), and to have them further buttressed in his authorised biography written by Anthony Sampson (1999).

To say that Mandela was almost certainly a member of the Party in the early 1960s, opens up a series of further historical questions. When did he join the Party? Paul Trewhela argues that it was about the same time that he was co-opted to the Central Committee. But, the evidence above certainly seems to hint at the possibility of an earlier conversion. When and why did he, and Sisulu, leave the Party on Robben Island?

Lastly, what is the significance of this for understanding both Mandela's own political beliefs and the South African history more generally - beyond the issues around the formation of MK?

Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter