Honouring the Rivonia Trialists - Jacob Zuma

President says they served the struggle with absolute commitment

Speaking notes by President Jacob Zuma at a dinner to honour Rivonia Trialists, Sandton Convention Centre, July 11 2011

Good evening to you all.

We are gathered here today to honour the best freedom fighters to have been produced by our struggle, the Rivonia Treason Trialists.

This was a generation of seasoned and hardened freedom fighters and revolutionaries. Most of them had served the liberation struggle for almost twenty years as fulltime, dedicated leaders having cut their teeth when they founded the ANC Youth League in the early 1940's.  

They had been part of some of the most memorable and historic events of their time. The Rivonia Trialists had been part of the major campaigns of the early 1950's including the Defiance Campaign of Unjust Laws, they had been part of the adoption of the Freedom Charter of 1955, some of them had been part of the famous Treason Trial which started in 1957 and ended in 1960 with their acquittal.

Most of them had also been part of the decision towards the formation of the uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), formed in the aftermath of the Sharpeville Massacre and the banning of the liberation movements. This was an event which marked a change in strategies and tactics of the liberation movement when the armed struggle was adopted as a new pillar of struggle. 

As you can see the profiles of men we are honouring today speaks volumes about them and their dedication and commitment to the struggle for freedom in South Africa. The people we are celebrating today, include, the highly regarded, respected and esteemed names of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Andrew Mlangeni, Elias Motsoaledi, Raymond Mhlaba and Dennis Goldberg.

They all served our struggle with absolute commitment and were all prepared to die for the cause of freedom. They were all sentenced to life imprisonment after the Rivonia Trial and served over 20 years in prison, except for Denis Goldberg. 

Context of the Awards Ceremony:

On this day in 1963, the apartheid police raided Lilliesleaf Farm in Rivonia and arrested a number of these leaders I have just mentioned, except of course Nelson Mandela who had been arrested the previous year near Howick, and had been sentenced to five years and was already serving his sentence.

Their arrest led to the famous Rivonia Trial, whose accused were found guilty of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island. The Rivonia Trial was one of the epoch making events in the history of the national liberation struggle and our country.

It is for this reason that today we are honouring those that were part of this historic trial and history of the liberation struggle.

The historical importance of Lilliesleaf: 

Lilliesleaf Farm in the 1960's was a secluded and isolated area in Rivonia. The Farm was purchased using funds from the South African Communist Party, basically for meetings of its Politiburo. For a long time it also served as a meeting place and a hide out for senior ANC and SACP leaders.

Even former President Nelson Mandela also sought refuge at Lilliesleaf and very interestingly lived here under the assumed name of David Motsamayi, a worker in blue overalls employed by the owner to look after the farm. This was a period of intense persecution of activists by the apartheid state. It was also after the brutal Sharpeville Massacre.

It was at this farm that the decision to intensify the offensive against the apartheid state was taken and to form Umkhonto We Sizwe, (MK) the People's Army. What is also significant about this Farm is that activities and meetings that were happening here demonstrated that the struggle against apartheid was non-racial in character.

The decision therefore to intensify the offensive against apartheid and form uMkhonto we Sizwe was taken following discussion by activists of all race groups in the country. You had people like Ahmed Kathrada, Aurthur Goldreich who were an integral part of the activities at Lilliesleaf.  

Those who worked and held meetings at Lilliesleaf Farm were convinced that the goal of a united, free, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa was possible, hence they took practical decisions to ensure that it is achieved. It is interesting to note that President Nelson Mandela, who for many, was the face of the Rivonia Trial, was not arrested in Lilliesleaf.

At the time of the raid he was already in prison on another charge and it was after documents were found in the Farm that he was charged with Treason along with other Rivonia Trialists. As Government, Lilliesleaf Farm and the subsequent Rivonia Trial is an important part of our liberation heritage.

We will therefore continue to ensure that the story of Lilliesleaf and the Rivonia Trial is told in full for the benefit of current and future generations. In this regard we have begun a process that will culminate in us declaring Lilliesleaf Farm a national heritage Institution.

This will make it possible for the heritage contained in this farm to be properly preserved and that the place will be adequately resourced as a heritage institution, which belongs to all the people of South Africa.We believe that by preserving this heritage we are contributing to the ongoing process of national healing and the building of a more cohesive society.

50th Anniversary of MK and the ANC Centenary:

As we today honour the Rivonia Trialists we will be doing so fully aware that this year marks the 50th Anniversary of Umkhonto Wesizwe, whose birth place was at this farm. We are also mindful that, next year South Africans, the rest of the Continent and indeed many people of the world will be celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the oldest liberation movement in Africa, the African National Congress.

These are important milestones of our liberation struggle; a struggle that has produced the kind of a free and democratic society we have today. Ours is a society which is a model for many countries especially those in conflict, a society we can be proud of and indeed a society based on equality and dignity for all.

It is this society that those who used Lilliesleaf Farm as a place for meetings and a hide-out hoped to achieve. We owe it to them and the many sacrifices they have made to preserve this heritage and ensure that it is used to heal our nation and bring unity and social cohesion.

The South African government led by the Department of Arts and Culture will be involved in declaring the Voortrekker Monument as a Heritage site. It will also be upgrading and declaring as heritage sites, the graves of liberation struggle heroes such as: Helen Joseph, Steve Biko, Reverend Langalibalele Dube and Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe.

We take this opportunity to thank these heroes of our revolution and we pledge to continue to strive for the society that is non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, united and prosperous society, which they sacrificed so much for.

I thank you.

Issued by the Presidency, July 11 2011

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