Statement by Mr. Thabo Mbeki, son of Mr. Govan Mbeki the African leader on trial in Pretoria, before a delegation of the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid in London

13 April 1964

A/AC.115/L.65, 23 April 1964


Mr. Chairman, esteemed members: first of all, may I express my humble gratitude to you for allowing me to take your time in an attempt to add yet another voice in the fight against the evil and insane policies of persecution pursued so relentlessly and so brazenly by the South African Government. I might also, with your permission, Mr. Chairman, use this opportunity to voice my deep-felt appreciation of the contribution which you and your colleagues are making to the success of the South African struggle, in the name of all humanity. Here I feel justified in claiming further to represent not only my feelings but also my father's, Govan Mbeki, and his comrades now interned in the Pretoria Local Prison, South Africa, and appearing again before the Judge this Monday, 20 April, for what seems the last leg of what has come to be known as the Rivonia Trial. Free South Africa will remember your efforts dearly; for the moment, I for one offer to do whatever I can to help to bring the apartheid monster to heel. This is my dedication to your efforts. Thank you, Sir, and through you, I thank the other members of your Special Committee, both present and absent.

I feel it my duty to introduce myself to you, Mr. Chairman, inasmuch as this might help you in your task. Born on 18 June 1942, I was christened Thabo Mbeki. Since starting school at the age of five, the rest of my life has been taken up with acquiring education of one sort or another. During that time I have been at schools in the Transkei and in the Ciskei in the Cape Province. Expelled from school in 1959, I finished my secondary school education as a private student and qualified at the end of the year for entry into any South African University. As the system of Bantu Education had been introduced, however, after consultation with my father, I felt obliged to seek a university place outside South Africa. For this purpose I took my General Certificate of Education examinations in Johannesburg in 1961, with a first class pass in economics, and qualified for a place in any British university.

After staying for another year in Johannesburg studying as an external student of the University of London, I left South Africa in September 1962, together with and leading twenty-seven other African students who were going out to study overseas. Owing to the delay occasioned by our arrest in Southern Rhodesia, we finally reached Dar es Salaam in November the efforts of the African National Congress.

While I was in South Africa I had participated extensively in anti-apartheid youth activities, during which time I had the fortune of enjoying constant contact with, among others, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Duma Nokwe, who already has had occasion to meet this esteemed Committee in New York. When I left the country I held, among others, the position of National Secretary of the African Students Association. It was for these reasons that I thought it unwise for me to apply for a passport to leave South Africa. It is my sincere wish that this information about myself will help the Committee to appreciate even more the appeal which I shall make, with your permission, Sir, through you to the nations of the world gathered at the United Nations.

My father, Govan Mbeki, now in the Rivonia Trial, on whose behalf I am here primarily, was, by some curious coincidence, born on 4 July 1910, the year that South Africa became the Union of South Africa and the date of the Independence of America. Born of a family of peasant farmers in the Transkei, he went to school in his village and later to the Healdtown High School were he matriculated. After his he went to the University College of Fort Hare, the only institutions of higher education in South Africa, but also from as far afield as Uganda. Working as newspaper seller during holidays in Johannesburg, he went through his B.A. degree and then took up teaching in Durban. He was later to be awarded a B. Econ. degree by the University of South Africa, after he had studied as an external student for a number of years.

From his early years my father took an interest in the welfare of his people, finally getting elected to the Transkei Territorial General Council in the early 1940s. He was not to stay long, however, as soon as afterwards the Government of the day began taking unto itself the tasks that the Council had previously regarded as falling under its jurisdiction. After a spirited fight he felt obliged to go back to his constituents to tell them that as the character of the Council had changed he felt he could not claim that he was representing the people by attending it, and therefore was obliged to resign and call on the people to resist the gradual whittling away of their rights by the Government. That fight met with an intransigent Government, but it heightened the respect of the people for his courage.

In 1943 he was to sign the document "The African Claims" - the African version of the Atlantic Charter - together with such distinguished African leaders as Moses Kotane, now in the team of ANC leaders overseas, ex-presidents of the ANC, Doctors A.B. Xuma and J.S. Moroka and Professor Z. K. Matthews, now Secretary of the World Council of Churches and a distinguished scholar. In later year he continued to work with these renowned leaders and others, gradually emerging as a man of powerful intellect and absolute dedication to the cause of freedom. After a number of business ventures by which he tried to secure his independence from a Government salary, he was forced to go back to teaching in 1954. He was expelled at the end of the year for his hostility to Government policies. He then joined the staff of the newspaper New Age which, together with its predecessors and its followers, acted as the newspaper of the liberation struggle.

In 1957 he played a prominent part in a national conference called by African Ministers to discuss the Tomlinson report, the Government's Bantustan blueprint. In 1960 he attended the meeting of African leaders called to discuss the then plans of the South African Government to declare South Africa a Republic. The Committee elected at that meeting, of which he was a member, was later to organize the Conference that elected Nelson Mandela as its leader, which action has subsequently led to his being sentenced to five years' imprisonment. During this time he had become one of the prominent leaders of the African National Congress and recognized by his colleagues as an expert on the problems of the Reserves, the so-called Bantustans.

At the beginning of 1962 he was arrested and detained for five months on a charge of sabotage. The case was however withdrawn and he was released to be arrested again this last time at Rivonia. If he hanged he will leave behind his wife, whom he married in 1939, three sons and a daughter; the two boys at school in Basutoland, their mother and sister still in South Africa and myself in my second year at the University of Sussex in this country.

It has been necessary that this introduction be made so as to explain the calibre of one of the men whom the South African Government seeks to hang today. I believe that the years of his political activity have derived their inspiration from his love for his people. During these years, as his older associates would testify, he has earned the respect of his people and his colleagues. Not a single one of the many South African courts has found him guilty of a petty or indictable crime. Yet today he stands accused, and his accusers, who only yesterday found glory in Nazi Germany, stand in full twilight of their cynical and inhuman power. For decades he, together with the rest of the African people, has appealed to the white Governments of South Africa, not for the exaltation of the African people to a position of dominance over the white, but for equality among the peoples. The only reward he has earned, that we have all earned, is the brutal might of South African law which has sought to bend human reason and feeling to the barbarity of madmen. By the profane and demented reasoning of the Government, Dr. Percy Yutar, well-known for the murderers and thieves that he has sent to prison or to the gallows, is now prosecuting in the Rivonia Trial.

Though much has been said on this subject I should also like to add my testimony about the character of the men that the South African Government would have the world believe are criminals. They are not only men of the greatest integrity that responsibility to their families and friends would demand, men who could be welcomed by any civilized country, but also men who would grace any Government in which they served. Activated by the noblest of motives, they have acquired through the years an understanding of leadership that would be a valuable contribution to the common human experience.

Today these men stand accused of treason, of plotting to overthrow the Government by violent means. If it is so, they have acted in defence of the people that the Government has sought to silence and subjugate with a whip and the instruments of war. The fact is inescapable that the trial is not only their trial as individuals, but it is a trial of all that they have stood for, which was not and is not war but peace among free and equal men. The Government has replied with more brutality, sentencing only last month three respected African National Congress leaders to death. By so doing that Government has declared freedom from poverty, from suffering and from degradation, and human equality without discrimination on grounds of colour or race, to be illegal and criminal in its eyes. And by the Rivonia Trial, the Government intends to make ten times more its case that freedom is illegal.

The crimes that the South African Government has committed are of a magnitude that baffles the human mind. The continued existence of apartheid with the support of the Governments of, particularly, the United Kingdom, the United States, France and West Germany, cannot but be seen as an act of violence, not only against the whole African people but also against that portion of humanity which is trying so hard to remove racialism in the intercourse between men. Anybody therefore who, having the power to stop the decapitation of the men on trial in Pretoria, fails to use that power to the fullest extent, is by omission an accomplice in the act.

Having said so much, Mr. Chairman, I wish again to thank you and your colleagues for giving me this audience. If, Sir, I may be so presumptuous as to seize the opportunity, I beg to ask you humbly, and in awareness of the immodesty of the request, to be so kind as to take this message to the nations of the world from one who may be about to lose a noble father and a noble leader.

He acted in defence of the principles on which the civilized human community so firmly stands, and to did his brothers who stand together under the sinister noose of the hangman. They were spurred on by the inspiration of the victorious struggles to their North, no less sacred among these the Algerian revolution. They drew strength from the respect accorded them by their people and the example that their forefathers had set them. For our part, if the butchers will have their way, we shall draw strength even from the little crosses that the kind may put at the head of their graves. In that process we shall learn. We shall learn to hate evil even more, and in the same intensity we shall seek to destroy it. We shall learn to be brave and unconscious of anything but this noblest of struggles. Today we might be but weak children, spurred on by nothing other than the fear and grief of losing our fathers. In time yet we shall learn to die both for ourselves and for the millions. Mr. Chairman, through you and through the esteemed members of your Committee, I wish, in the name of my mother, my brothers, my sister and myself, in the name of Mandela's Sisulu's Mhlaba's, Goldberg's and the others' families, and in the name of the South African people, to make this appeal to the world.

In the name of humanity the South African Government must be stopped. That Government has criminally taken up arms against my people. Was any gang of butchers so powerful as to defy the whole world? The leaders at the Rivonia Trial cannot be allowed to die at the hands of the South African Government.


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