Item 1421 - Black man in a white man's court : Letter and cross examnination

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ZA COM MR-S-1421


Black man in a white man's court : Letter and cross examnination


  • 1962-10-01 - 1962-10-31 (Oct-62)

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Transcription of speech made by Mr Mandela

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Migrated from the Nelson Mandela Speeches Database (Sep-2018).

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1962 Trial

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  • English

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[22 October 1962]

[Among the witnesses was Mr. Barnard, the private secretary to the then Prime Minister, Dr H F Verwoerd, whom Mandela cross-examined on the subject of a letter sent by Mandela to the Prime Minister demanding a National Convention in May 1961. In cross-examining the witness, Mandela first read the contents of the letter: ]

'I am directed by the All-in African National Action Council to address your government in the following terms:
'The All-in African National Action Council was established in terms of a resolution adopted at a conference held at Pietermaritzburg on 25 and 26 March 1961. This conference was attended by 1,500 delegates from town and country, representing 145 religious, social, cultural, sporting, and political bodies.
'Conference noted that your government, after receiving a mandate from a section of the European population, decided to proclaim a republic on 31 May.
'It was the firm view of delegates that your government, which represents only a minority of the population in this country, is not entitled to take such a decision without first seeking the views and obtaining the express consent of the African people. Conference feared that under this proposed republic your government, which is already notorious the world over for its obnoxious policies, would continue to make even more savage attacks on the rights and living conditions of the African people.
'Conference carefully considered the grave political situation facing the African people today. Delegate after delegate drew attention to the vicious manner in which your government forced the people of Zeerust, Sekhukhuniland, Pondoland, Nongoma, Tembuland and other areas to accept the unpopular system of Bantu Authorities, and pointed to numerous facts and incidents which indicate the rapid manner in which race relations are deteriorating in this country.
'It was the earnest opinion of Conference that this dangerous situation could be averted only by the calling of a sovereign national convention representative of all South Africans, to draw up a new non-racial and democratic Constitution. Such a convention would discuss our national problems in a sane and sober manner, and would work out solutions which sought to preserve and safeguard the interests of all sections of the population.
'Conference unanimously decided to call upon your government to summon such a convention before 31 May.
'Conference further decided that unless your government calls the convention before the above-mentioned date, countrywide demonstrations would be held on the eve of the republic in protest. Conference also resolved that in addition to the demonstrations, the African people would be called upon to refuse to co-operate with the proposed republic.
'We attach the Resolutions of the Conference for your attention and necessary action.
'We now demand that your government call the convention before 31 May, failing which we propose to adopt the steps indicated in paragraphs 8 and 9 of this letter.
'These demonstrations will be conducted in a disciplined and peaceful manner.
'We are fully aware of the implications of this decision, and the action we propose taking. We have no illusions about the counter-measures your government might take in this matter. After all, South Africa and the world know that during the last thirteen years your government has subjected us to merciless and arbitrary rule. Hundreds of our people have been banned and confined to certain areas. Scores have been banished to remote parts of the country, and many arrested and jailed for a multitude of offences. It has become extremely difficult to hold meetings, and freedom of speech has been drastically curtailed. During the last twelve months we have gone through a period of grim dictatorship, during which seventy-five people were killed and hundreds injured while peacefully demonstrating against passes.
'Political organisations were declared unlawful, and thousands flung into jail without trial. Your government can only take these measures to suppress the forthcoming demonstrations, and these measures have failed to stop opposition to the policies of your government. We are not deterred by threats of force and violence made by you and your government, and will carry out our duty without flinching.'
MANDELA: You remember the contents of this letter?
MANDELA: Did you place this letter before your Prime Minister?
MANDELA: On what date? Can you remember?
WITNESS: It is difficult to remember, but I gather from the date specified on the date stamp, the Prime Minister's Office date stamp.
MANDELA: That is 24 April. Now was any reply given to this letter by the Prime Minister? Did he reply to this letter?
WITNESS: He did not reply to the writer.
MANDELA: He did not reply to the letter. Now, will you agree that this letter raises matters of vital concern to the vast majority of the citizens of this country?
WITNESS: I do not agree.
MANDELA: You don't agree? You don't agree that the question of human rights, of civil liberties, is a matter of vital importance to the African people?
WITNESS: Yes, that is so, indeed.
MANDELA: Are these things mentioned here?
WITNESS: Yes, I think so.
MANDELA: They are mentioned. You agree that this letter deals with matters of vital importance to the African people in this country? You have already agreed that this letter raises questions like the rights of freedom, civil liberties, and so on?
WITNESS: Yes, the letter raises it.
MANDELA: Important questions to any citizen?
MANDELA: Now, you know of course that Africans don't enjoy the rights demanded in this letter. They are denied the rights of government?
WITNESS: Some rights.
MANDELA: No African is a member of parliament?
WITNESS: That is right.
MANDELA: No African can be a member of the Provincial Council, of the Municipal Councils?
MANDELA: Africans have no vote in this country?
WITNESS: They have got no vote as far as parliament is concerned.
MANDELA: Yes, that is what I am talking about, I am talking about parliament, and other government bodies of the country, the Provincial Councils, the Municipal Councils. They have no vote?
WITNESS: That is right.
MANDELA: Would you agree with me that in any civilised country in the world it would be at least most scandalous for a Prime Minister to fail to reply to a letter raising vital issues affecting the majority of the citizens of that country. Would you agree with that?
WITNESS: I don't agree with that.
MANDELA: You don't agree that it would be irregular for a Prime Minister to ignore a letter raising vital issues affecting the vast majority of the citizens of that country?
WITNESS: This letter has not been ignored by the Prime Minister.
MANDELA: Just answer the question. Do you regard it proper for a Prime Minister not to respond to pleas made in regard to vital issues by the vast majority of the citizens of the country? You say that is not wrong?
WITNESS: The Prime Minister did respond to the letter.
MANDELA: Mr. Barnard, I don't want to be rude to you. Will you confine yourself to answering my questions? The question I am putting to you is, do you agree that it is most improper on the part of a Prime Minister not to reply to a communication raising vital issues affecting the vast majority of the country?
WITNESS: I do not agree in this special case, because . . .
MANDELA: As a general proposition? Would you regard it as improper, speaking generally, for a Prime Minister not to respond to a letter of this nature, that is, a letter raising vital issues affecting the majority of the citizens?
PROSECUTOR: (Intervened with objections to the line of questioning)
MANDELA: You say that the Prime Minister did not ignore this letter?
WITNESS: He did not acknowledge the letter to the writer.
MANDELA: This letter was not ignored by the Prime Minister?
WITNESS: No, it was not ignored.
MANDELA: It was attended to?
WITNESS: It was indeed.
MANDELA: In what way?
WITNESS: According to the usual procedure, and that is that the Prime Minister refers correspondence to the respective Minister, the Minister most responsible for that particular letter.
MANDELA: Was this letter referred to another Department?
WITNESS: That is right.
MANDELA: Which Department?
WITNESS: The Department of Justice.
MANDELA: Can you explain why I was not favoured with the courtesy of an acknowledgement of this letter, and also the explanation that it had been referred to the appropriate Department for attention?
WITNESS: When a letter is replied to and whether it should be replied to, depends on the contents of the letter in many instances.
MANDELA: My question is, can you explain to me why I was not favoured with the courtesy of an acknowledgement of the letter, irrespective of what the Prime Minister is going to do about it? Why was I not favoured with this courtesy?
WITNESS: Because of the contents of this letter.
MANDELA: Because it raises vital issues?
WITNESS: Because of the contents of the letter.
MANDELA: I see. This is not the type of thing the Prime Minister would ever consider responding to?
WITNESS: The Prime Minister did respond.
MANDELA: You say that the issues raised in this letter are not the type of thing your Prime Minister could ever respond to?
WITNESS: The whole tone of the letter was taken into consideration.
MANDELA: The tone of the letter demanding a National Convention? Of all South Africans? That is the tone of the letter? That is not the type of thing your Prime Minister could ever respond to?
WITNESS: The tone of the letter indicates whether, and to what extent, the Prime Minister responds to correspondence.
MANDELA: I want to put it to you that in failing to respond to this letter, your Prime Minister fell below the standards which one expects from one in such a position.
Now this letter, Exhibit 18, is dated 26 June 1961, and it is also addressed to the Prime Minister, and it reads as follows:
'I refer you to my letter of 20 April 1961, to which you do not have the courtesy to reply or acknowledge receipt. In the letter referred to above I informed you of the resolutions passed by the All-in African National Conference in Pietermaritzburg on 26 March 1961, demanding the calling by your government before 31 May 1961 of a multi-racial and sovereign National Convention to draw up a new non-racial and democratic Constitution for South Africa. The Conference Resolution which was attached to my letter indicated that if your government did not call this convention by the specific date, countrywide demonstrations would be staged to mark our protest against the White republic forcibly imposed on us by a minority. The Resolution further indicated that in addition to the demonstrations, the African people would be called upon not to co-operate with the republican government, or with any government based on force. As your government did not respond to our demands, the All-in African National Council, which was entrusted by the Conference with the task of implementing its resolutions, called for a General Strike on the 29, 30 and 31 of last month. As predicted in my letter of 30 April 1961, your government sought to suppress the strike by force. You rushed a special law in parliament authorising the detention without trial of people connected with the organisation of the strike. The army was mobilised and European civilians armed. More than ten thousand innocent Africans were arrested under the pass laws and meetings banned throughout the country. Long before the factory gates were opened on Monday, 29 May 1961, senior police officers and Nationalist South Africans spread a deliberate falsehood and announced that the strike had failed. All these measures failed to break the strike and our people stood up magnificently and gave us solid and substantial support. Factory and office workers, businessmen in town and country, students in university colleges, in the primary and secondary schools, rose to the occasion and recorded in clear terms their opposition to the republic. The government is guilty of self-deception if they say that non Europeans did not respond to the call. Considerations of honesty demand of your government to realise that the African people who constitute four-fifths of the country's population are against your republic. As indicated above, the Pietermaritzburg resolution provided that in addition to the countrywide demonstrations, the African people would refuse to co-operate with the republic or any form of government based on force. Failure by your government to call the convention makes it imperative for us to launch a full-scale and countrywide campaign for non-co-operation with your government. There are two alternatives before you. Either you accede to our demands and call a National Convention of all South Africans to draw up a democratic Constitution, which will end the frightful policies of racial oppression pursued by your government. By pursuing this course and abandoning the repressive and dangerous policies of your government, you may still save our country from economic dislocation and ruin and from civil strife and bitterness. Alternatively, you may choose to persist with the present policies which are cruel and dishonest and which are opposed by millions of people here and abroad. For our own part, we wish to make it perfectly clear that we shall never cease to fight against repression and injustice, and we are resuming active opposition against your regime. In taking this decision we must again stress that we have no illusions of the serious implications of our decision. We know that your government will once again unleash all its fury and barbarity to persecute the African people. But as the result of the last strike has clearly proved, no power on earth can stop an oppressed people determined to win their freedom. History punishes those who resort to force and fraud to suppress the claims and legitimate aspirations of the majority of the country's citizens.'
MANDELA: This is the letter which you received on 28 June 1961? Again there was no acknowledgement or reply by the Prime Minister to this letter?
WITNESS: I don't think it is - I think it shouldn't be called a letter in the first instance, but an accumulation of threats.
MANDELA: Whatever it is, there was no reply to it?



The "Black Man in a White Man's Court "speech" that is available in many places is actually a combination of three different parts from his 1962 trial. Below we reproduce the second part. See NMS011 and NMS1522 for the other parts.



[Another witness to be called was Warrant Officer Baardman, member of the police Special Branch in Bloemfontein. He was cross-examined by Mandela:]


MANDELA: Is it true to say that the present constitution of South Africa was passed at a National Convention representing whites only?
WITNESS: I don't know, I was not there.
MANDELA: But from your knowledge?
WITNESS: I don't know, I was not there.
MANDELA: You don't know at all?
WITNESS: No, I don't know.
MANDELA: You want this court to believe that, that you don't know?
WITNESS: I don't know, I was not there.
MANDELA: Just let me put the question. You don't know that the National Convention in 1909 was a convention of whites only?
WITNESS: I don't know, I was not there.
MANDELA: Do you know that the Union Parliament is an all-White parliament?
WITNESS: Yes, with representation for non-Whites.
MANDELA: Now, I just want to ask you one or two personal questions. What standard of education have you passed?
WITNESS: Matriculation.
MANDELA: When was that?
WITNESS: In 1932.
MANDELA: In what medium did you write it?
WITNESS: In my mother tongue. (Here the witness meant Afrikaans.)
MANDELA: I notice you are very proud of this?
MANDELA: You know of course that in this country we have no language rights as Africans?
WITNESS: I don't agree with you.
MANDELA: None of our languages is an official language, for example. Would you agree with that?
WITNESS: They are perhaps not in the Statute Book as official languages, but no one forbids you from using your own language.
MANDELA: Will you answer the question? Is it true that in this country there are only two official languages, and they are English and Afrikaans?
WITNESS: I agree entirely. By name they are the two official languages, but no one has ever forbidden you to use your own language.
MANDELA: Is it true that there are only two official languages in this country, that is English and Afrikaans?
WITNESS: To please you, that is so.
MANDELA: Is it true that the Afrikaner people in this country have fought for equality of English and Afrikaans? There was a time, for example, when Afrikaans was not the official language in the history of the various colonies, like the Cape?
WITNESS: Yes, I agree with you entirely. Constitutionally, the Afrikaner did fight for his language but not through agitators.

[On the third day of the trial Mandela again applied for the recusal of the magistrate.]

[24 October]

MANDELA: I want to make application for the recusal of Your Worship from this case. As I indicated last Monday, I hold Your Worship in high esteem, and I do not for one single moment doubt Your Worship's sense of fairness and justice. I still do, as I assured Your Worship last Monday. I make this application with the greatest of respect. I have been placed in possession of information to the effect that after the adjournment yesterday, Your Worship was seen leaving the courtroom in the company of Warrant Officer Dirker of the Special Branch, and another member of the Special Branch. As Your Worship will remember, Warrant Officer Dirker gave evidence in this case on the first day of the trial. The State Prosecutor then indicated that he would be called later, on another aspect of this case. I was then given permission by the court to defer my cross examination of this witness until then. The second member of the Special Branch who was in the company of Your Worship, has been seen throughout this trial assisting the State Prosecutor in presenting the case against me. Your Worship was seen entering a small blue Volkswagen car; it is believed that Your Worship sat in front, as Warrant Officer Dirker drove the car. And this other member of the Special Branch sat behind. At about ten to two Your Worship was seen returning with Warrant Officer Dirker and this other member of the Special Branch.
Now, it is not known what communication passed between Your Worship and Warrant Officer Dirker and this other member of the Special Branch. I, as an accused, was not there, and was not represented. Now, these facts have created an impression in my mind that the court has associated itself with the State case. I am left with the substantial fear that justice is being administered in a secret manner. It is an elementary rule of justice that a judicial officer should not communicate or associate in any manner whatsoever with a party to those proceedings. I submit that Your Worship should not have acted in this fashion, and I must therefore ask Your Worship to recuse yourself from this case.
MAGISTRATE: I can only say this, that it is not for me here to give you any reasons. I can assure you, as I here now do, that I did not communicate with these two gentlemen, and your application is refused.

[Another police witness was Mr. A Moolla, an Indian member of the Special Branch, who was also cross-examined by Mandela:]

[24 October?]

MANDELA: You know about the Group Areas Act?
MANDELA: You know that it is intended to set certain areas for occupation by the various population groups in the country?
WITNESS: Yes, I do know.
MANDELA: And you know that it has aroused a great deal of feeling and opposition from the Indian community in this country?
WITNESS: Well, not that I know of. I think that most of the Indians are satisfied with it.
MANDELA: Is this a sincere opinion?
WITNESS: That is my sincere opinion, from people that I have met.
MANDELA: And are you aware of the attitude of the South African Indian Congress, about the Group Areas?
MANDELA: What is the attitude of the South African Indian Congress?
WITNESS: The South African Indian Congress is against it.
MANDELA: And the attitude of the Transvaal Indian Congress?
MANDELA: They are against it?
MANDELA: And the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress?
MANDELA: The Cape Indian Assembly, also against it?
WITNESS: Yes. Well, the Cape Indian Assembly I do not know about.
MANDELA: Well, you can take it from me that it is against it. Now, of course, if the Group Areas Act is carried out in its present form, it means that a large number of Indian merchants would lose their trading rights in areas which have been declared White Areas?
WITNESS: That is right.
MANDELA: And a large number of members of the Indian community who are living at the present moment in areas which might or have been declared as White Areas, would have to leave those homes, and have to go where they are to be stationed?
WITNESS: I think they will be better off than where . . .
MANDELA: Answer the question. You know that?
WITNESS: Yes, I know that.
MANDELA: You say that the Indian merchant class in this country, who are going to lose their business rights, are happy about it?
WITNESS: Well, not all.
MANDELA: Not all. And you are saying that those members of the Indian community who are going to be driven away from the areas where they are living at present would be happy to do so?
WITNESS: Yes, they would be.
MANDELA: Well, Mr. Moolla, I want to leave it at that, but just to say that you have lost your soul

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Acquisition method: Hardcopy ; Source: . Accessioned on 2 Nov 2015 by Razia Saleh




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