Johannesburg – An exhibition depicting the bitter road of the liberation struggle that journeys through jail and torture, and the execution of freedom fighters, was unveiled at the Nelson Mandela Foundation on Tuesday.
Dubbed “In Pursuit of Liberty: Legality vs Justice”, the exhibition portrays how freedom fighters used the apartheid courts and police holding cells as sites of struggle.
It evokes unpleasant memories of the turbulent apartheid years, but it can help those who were born after the dawn of democracy to understand the heavy price their forebears paid for democracy.
The exhibition highlights stories and pictures of the Rivonia trial and the arrest of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) high command, the trial and execution of Solomon Mahlangu, the Silverton Siege, Soekmekaar and Silverton trials, which became the turning point of the liberation struggle.
Some of the legends of freedom who were charged with four crimes at the Rivonia trial are Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Elias Motsoaledi, Andrew Mlangeni, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba and Ahmed Kathrada.
At the exhibition, a police docket opened in 1963 against the freedom fighters, who were regarded as terrorists by the apartheid regime, reads: State versus Nelson Mandela and others.
The charges in that docket are recruiting persons for training in preparation and use of explosives and in guerrilla warfare for the purpose of violent revolution and committing acts of sabotage; conspiring to commit the aforementioned acts and to aid foreign military units when they invade the Republic; acting in these ways to further the objects of communism and soliciting, and receiving money for these purposes from sympathisers in Algeria, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, Tunisia and elsewhere.
The court sentenced eight of the convicted – Mandela, Sisulu, Mbeki, Motsoaledi, Mlangeni, Denis Goldberg, Mhlaba and Kathrada – to life imprisonment.
The exhibitors have also printed brave but emotional quotes of freedom fighters. These are displayed on banners.
On one of the banners, Mhlaba said: “During my 90 days of detention, I was tortured by the special branch police over a number of days, but I never broke, you must remember they were dealing with a highly trained cadre.”
There are also newspaper clippings at the exhibition about Solomon Mahlangu, who left home in Mamelodi to seek military training from the ANC’s armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe.
One newspaper headline reads: “Time ticking away for Mahlangu,” while in several other articles, he was referred to as “terrorist Solomon Mahlangu”.
The apartheid regime sentenced Mahlangu to death by hanging on April 6, 1979 at the age of 23. Facing the gallows, Mahlangu raised his hand in the ANC salute and his final words are reputed to have been: “My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people that I love them. They must continue the fight.”
MK and Military Veterans Association Secretary-General, Ayanda Dlodlo, said the apartheid court systems were also platforms for political education for the oppressed.
“The inputs by the defence team of freedom fighters, by comrades facing unjust laws and family members outside the courts helped to galvanised more support for our struggle.”
Dlodlo said they had planned a series of events with the Liliesleaf farm trust to commemorate the formation of MK.
James Mange, a MK command who was arrested with Mahlangu and 12 others, described the exhibition as a mirror through which the current young generation should reflect upon going forward.
“This exhibition will help our youth to realise that the generation before them did not fail and disgrace them as they chose to liberate the country with their lives,” he said.
Distinguished human rights advocate, George Bizos who defended Mandela, Mbeki and Sisulu at the Rivonia Trial in 1963 and 1964, said he will forever remember the trial.
“It was an emotional trial and I will never forget the bravery shown by those freedom fighters throughout the trial. Remember, there was a possibility of a death sentence, but they remained unchanged on what they believed.
“Now, the liberation struggle of the 1960s, 70s and 80s is not known by young people, but this exhibition is important for them as it reflects the clear image of what exactly happened,” he said. – BuaNews