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South Africa’s best kept secret

George Curry | 5/13/2013, 9:51 a.m.

The only furniture in the room is a desk used by Mandela. The writing on the desk stated, “On 20 April 1964, Nelson Mandela delivered his Statement from the Dock at the opening of the Defence case at the Ravonia Trial. He chose to not make a statement to avoid being cross examined. He spoke for five hours, clearly presenting his role in the underground movement and his conviction that the Liberation Movement had no choice but to resort to armed struggle against a white government that refused to listen to the grievances of its non-white people …”

The trial was preceded by a July 11, 1963, police raid on the farm that captured 19 revolutionaries. They were charged with sabotage, conspiring to launch a violent revolution against the state, and advancing the cause of Communism. Eight ANC members, including Mandela who was already in custody at the time of the raid, were sentenced to life in prison. Mandela served 27 years; Walter Sisulu, 26 years; and Govan Mbeki, 24 years.

In the epilogue to Joffe’s book, Edelgard Nkobi-Goldberg noted that documents recovered after the trial showed “… The American CIA and the British MI5 kept Liliesleaf under observation. Both secret services had long been actively engaged in these activities at least from the time of Nelson Mandela’s international travels in 1962. They had informed the South African security service about everything that happened during his journey and followed his movements after his return to South Africa. And that might have led to his arrest.”

Regardless of what prompted the arrests, there is no doubt that the Ravonia Trial put South African apartheid on the world’s agenda. Although the museum is advertised as a tourist spot, it remains one of South Africa’s best kept secrets.

George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service. He is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. Curry can be reached through http://www.georgecurry.com or follow him at http://www.twitter.com/currygeorge.