On April 20, 1964, Nelson Mandela gave his famous, three-hour “I Am Prepared to Die” speech at the Rivonia Trial in South Africa. After being imprisoned for five years and a life sentence to follow (of which he only served 27 years), Mandela’s speech was the last stand to a powerful movement that would change South African civil rights forever. Among him on trial were Ahmed Kathrada and Denis Goldberg, who both have specific memories of Mandela’s positive influence.
Ahmed Kathrada remembers smuggling Mandela’s autobiography into prison (excerpted from A Simple Freedom: The Strong Mind of Robben Island Prisoner No. 468/64):
“Once again, there’s regulations. Regulations allowed you to buy soap, toothpaste, shaving cream, blades. These were absolute necessities. In my case, whenever I got a chance I ordered things with nothing specific in mind – just with the idea that some day we might need to use them. So I ordered parchment, glue, mapping pens, rice paper. And, when we had to smuggle out the Mandela biography, the parchment was used to cover the makeshift album—constructed by Laloo Chiba—the glue was used to seal it and the mapping pens were used by Chiba and another ‘B’ section comrade Mac Maharaj to transcribe Madiba’s manuscript in tiny handwriting on to rice paper. The album containing large maps was so expertly assembled that it looked as if it was factory-made. Mac Maharaj was to be released in 1976; his task was to take out the album, which he did easily and without causing any suspicion. As planned, he sent it to London, where it eventually became the bestseller Long Walk to Freedom.”
Denis Goldberg remembers the sentencing that followed the trial a couple months later (excerpted from A Life for Freedom: The Mission to End Racial Injustice in South Africa):
“On 12 June 1964, the day of sentence, the judge read a very short statement saying that he was not imposing the ultimate sentence (death), which would be appropriate in a case that was tantamount to high treason, but as we were charged under the Sabotage Act, he could allow some leniency: the sentence was life imprisonment on each of the charges on which we were found guilty. As he spoke the faces of my comrades lit up in the most wonderful smiles of relief and joy, and we laughed out loud. I was overjoyed to live, even though it would be life behind bars. I was only thirty-one years old and I did not believe that my life was over.”