"Saving Nelson Mandela: The Rivonia Trial and the Fate of South Africa." By Kenneth S. Broun. Oxford University Press. 210 pages. $24.95. Hardback.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Rivonia Trial, held between October 1963 and June 1964, transformed South African history.
For many years, the Rivonia convictions helped the country's oppressive regime by jailing Nelson Mandela and nine other leaders who challenged apartheid.
The Rivonia prosecutors and many apartheid political leaders hoped to execute Mandela and his colleagues. But brilliant defense lawyers and a somewhat open-minded judge saved the 10 defendants from death row.
The Rivonia trial "broke the back of anti-government resistance for a generation," Kenneth Broun writes in his new book, "Saving Nelson Mandela: The Rivonia Trial and the Fate of South Africa."
But it was not for another generation that all 10 men convicted at Rivonia -- including Walter Sisulu and Govan Mbeki -- had been released from prison to continue their efforts to reform South Africa.
On Nov. 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela was the last to walk out of prison, free for the first time in 27 years. In 1994, he was elected president.
When the Rivonia Trial began, South Africa had more than 17 million people. Only 3.25 million were white, while 11.6 million were black and 2.2 million were other minorities, including Asians.
When European settlers began arriving in South Africa in the late 1600s, they segregated and oppressed native people almost immediately.
The Rivonia Trial focused on plans by the African National Congress and its allies to disrupt apartheid, including plans to sabotage government and communications sites.
But in planning acts of violence against property, ANC leaders opposed threatening or endangering human life. Beginning in 1961, the attacks were restricted to empty buildings and power stations.
During the 1950s, the ANC became increasingly more militant, along with its allies, including Umkhonto we Sizwe and the Communist Party of South Africa. Umkhonto we Sizwe, commonly called "MK," was the armed wing of the ANC.
Mandela, first charged with "treason" in 1956, openly promoted resistance to the South African government by sabotage and guerrilla warfare.
Nineteen ANC and MK leaders, were arrested at the Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, a Johannesburg suburb, on July 11, 1963. Arthur Goldreich, who owned the farm, was among those arrested for planning future resistance to the apartheid regime at the farm.
The 10 Rivonia Trial defendants wanted to make their views known in their own country and heard around the world.
Decisions facing the defendants, and their lawyers, were complex.
"If they testified truthfully, most would have to admit enough charges to ensure their conviction," writes Broun, himself an American trial lawyer.
"But if they failed to testify, they would lose the opportunity to make their case against apartheid."