Throughout 1955 and 1956 the Special Branch conducted a series of raids on offices and private homes of hundreds of opponents of apartheid. Documents, letters, pamphlets, even pieces of clothing were seized in preparation for a show trial.
Finally, early on the morning of 5 December 1956, hundreds of policemen throughout the country descended on the homes of leaders of the Congress Alliance and arrested them. One hundred and fifty-six people - 104 Africans, 23 Whites, 21 Indians and 8 Coloureds - were charged with high treason, a capital offence in South Africa.
While the case was remanded against most of the accused, 30 of them sat in court almost daily for four-and-a-half years, their normal lives disrupted, and had to listen to an endless recital of long documents, garbled reports of ANC meetings and fabrications by bought informers. The Treason Trial was the main attack on the Freedom Charter, but in the end the court acquitted and discharged all the accused.
The trial was held in two stages, a preparatory examination in a magistrates court which was to determine if there was sufficient evidence to warrent a trial, and then, if evidence existed, a trial by the Supreme Court. The preparatory examination of the case lasted over a year until January 1958. As a result chargess against 61 of the accused were dropped.
The main trial lasted until 1961, when all of the defendants were found not guilty. During the trials, Oliver Tambo went into exile. Some of the defendants were later convicted in the Rivonia Trial in 1964.
The ANC is in an alliance with the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Each Alliance partner is an independent organisation with its own constitution, membership and programmes. The Alliance is founded on a common commitment to the objectives of the National Democratic Revolution, and the need to unite the largest possible cross-section of South Africans behind these objectives.
Last updated: 10 August 2010
|01 Jul 1987||Where Freedom Is Treason: Article on the Thirtieth Anniversary of the Treason Trial|
|20 Jul 1963||The Treason Trial: Foreword by Chief Albert Luthuli to a book by Helen Joseph|
|20 Jul 1960||Nelson Mandela`s Testimony at the Treason Trial 1956-60|
|05 Jul 1960||Undelivered statement by Albert Luthuli at the time of his Trial for burning his pass|
|05 Mar 1960||Testimony by Albert Luthuli in the Treason Trial|
|20 Dec 1956||Speech by Ahmed Kathrada at a Meeting of People`s Defence Committee held after the Arrests of Leaders on Charges of High Treason|
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