Nelson Mandela was already 45 years old when, on April 20, 1964, he gave the defining speech of the anti-Apartheid movement, from the dock of a Pretoria courtroom.
Mandela had been in prison for two years already, for inciting workers to strike, when he was put on the stand again as part of the Rivonia Trials. Named for the Johannesburg suburb where South African police had arrested 19 ANC leaders, the trials were meant to be a blow against the group. But Mandela, charged with three counts of sabotage, seized the moment to speak directly to South Africa and the world.
What began as a statement by an accused prison became, over the 29 minutes it took Mandela to deliver it, his best known and most important speech. It was a recounting of his story up to that point, an expression of his views and a morally forceful argument on behalf of his cause. You will surely know it from the final lines:
During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
But the speech must be read in full. The complete transcript, via a United Nations page, is below. You can also listen to the speech here. One and a half months later, Mandela was sentenced to life in prison. He was not freed until 1990, and in 1994 was elected president.
I am the First Accused.
I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts and practised as an attorney in Johannesburg for a number of years in partnership with Oliver Tambo. I am a convicted prisoner serving five years for leaving the country without a permit and for inciting people to go on strike at the end of May 1961
At the outset, I want to say that the suggestion made by the State in its opening that the struggle in South Africa is under the influence of foreigners or communists is wholly incorrect. I have done whatever I did, both as an individual and as a leader of my people, because of my experience in South Africa and my own proudly felt African background, and not because of what any outsider might have said.
In my youth in the Transkei I listened to the elders of my tribe telling stories of the old days. Amongst the tales they related to me were those of wars fought by our ancestors in defence of the fatherland. The names of Dingane and Bambata, Hintsa and Makana, Squngthi and Dalasile, Moshoeshoe and Sekhukhuni, were praised as the glory of the entire African nation. I hoped then that life might offer me the opportunity to serve my people and make my own humble contribution to their freedom struggle. This is what has motivated me in all that I have done in relation to the charges made against me in this case.
Having said this, I must deal immediately and at some length with the question of violence. Some of the things so far told to the Court are true and some are untrue. I do not, however, deny that I planned sabotage. I did not plan it in a spirit of recklessness, nor because I have any love of violence. I planned it as a result of a calm and sober assessment of the political situation that had arisen after many years of tyranny, exploitation, and oppression of my people by the Whites.
Source: The Washington post