DARC Ethiophile Chronicles
On this day
On December 19 in 1956 the four-year long Treason Trial began at the Drill Hall in Johannesburg, in which 156 people, including Nelson Mandela, were arrested in a raid and accused of treason. The main trial lasted until 1961, when all of the defendants were found not guilty. During the trials, Oliver Tambo left the country and was exiled. While in other European and African countries he started an organization, which helped bring publicity to the African National Congress's cause in South Africa. Some of the defendants were later convicted in the Rivonia Trial in 1964. Chief Luthuli has said of the Treason Trial: "The treason trial must occupy a special place in South African history.
That grim pre-dawn raid, deliberately calculated to strike terror into hesitant minds and impress upon the entire nation the determination of the governing clique to stifle all opposition, made 156 of us, belonging to all the races of our land, into a group of accused facing one of the most serious charges in any legal system." In December 1956 many key members of the Congress Alliance were arrested and charged with treason, including the almost entire executive committee of the ANC, as well as the SACP, SAIC, COD.
The arrested comprised 105 Africans, 21 Indians, 23 whites and 7 coloured leaders. Ten of those arrested were women. Many, including Nelson Mandela, were detained in communal cells in Johannesburg Prison, known as the Fort, resulting in what Mandela described as "the largest and longest unbanned meeting of the Congress Alliance in years." However, white men, white women, and blacks were all held in separate parts of the jail. Initially, 156 defendants were charged with high treason. The number of defendants was later reduced to 92. In November 1957, the prosecution reworded the indictment and proceeded with a separate trial against 30 accused. Their trial started in August 1959. The remaining 61 accused were tried separately before the case against them was dismissed in mid 1959. On 29 March 1961 the accused were found not guilty.