10 June 2010
The 11th of June marks the kick-off of the first Fifa World Cup to be held on the African continent. But the day has a further significance in the history of South Africa. For one: it is the day Nelson Mandela and seven of his comrades were convicted for sabotage.
Forty-six years ago, on 11 June 1964, Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba, Denis Goldberg, Andrew Mlangeni, Elias Motsoaledi and Govan Mbeki were found guilty, in the Rivonia Trial, of sabotage.
The following day, the eight, who had expected the death sentence, were each sentenced to a term of life imprisonment.
Goldberg, being white, was separated from the group and incarcerated at Pretoria Central Prison. Mandela and the others arrived on Robben Island in the early hours of the morning of 13 June.
Coincidentally, the 11th of July – the date of the final match of the 2010 Fifa World Cup – is also a historic day in South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle.
It was on 11 July 1963 that the police first raided Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia and made several arrests, including those of Sisulu and Kathrada. Some of the other Rivonia accused were arrested elsewhere.
Mandela was not among them. He was, by then, already a sentenced prisoner. On 7 November 1962 he had been sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for leaving the country illegally and inciting workers to strike.
The charges arose from his underground travels in 1962 to several countries in Africa, where he received military training and garnered support for Umkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed wing of the African National Congress. He also visited London.
The incitement charge arose from his call to workers to stay at home in protest against South Africa becoming a Republic on 31 May 1961.
Initially held in prison in Pretoria, Mandela was sent to Robben Island in late May 1963, but two weeks later was returned, inexplicably to Pretoria, a month before the arrests at Rivonia and elsewhere.
He remained incarcerated with his comrades in Pretoria until the day they were found guilty, 46 years ago, on 11 June.
Eighteen years later, in 1982, Mandela, Sisulu, Mhlaba and Kathrada were transferred from Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison on the mainland.
After he was diagnosed with Tuberculosis in August 1988, Mandela was treated at Tygerberg Hospital and then at the Constantiaberg MediClinic before being transferred to Victor Verster Prison outside Paarl in December that year.
He was released from the gates of the prison on 11 February 1990.
Goldberg had been released in 1985 and Mbeki in 1987. Sisulu, Kathrada, Mhlaba, Motsoaledi and Mlangeni had been released in October 1989.
The World Cup kick-off day also marks the 22nd anniversary of the famous “Free Mandela Concert” held at London’s Wembley Stadium on 11 June 1988. The concert was billed as his 70th birthday concert, but was staged to highlight the plight of all political prisoners in South Africa and to call for their release.