Friday, October 18, 2013

Page 1: NELSON MANDELA will state:-

The first lesson you learn while working in South Africa is "to never put off until tomorrow what you can do today." Underlying this advice is a recognition of a fragile, and often failing, infrastructure. For example, traffic lights rarely work two days in a row, city buses may or may not complete the entire scheduled route, ATMs may have cash, postal workers may deliver the mail, and so on. 

Thursday the LRC offices were without phone service; and today we worked without either phone service or internet access. Ironically, the office atmosphere was almost festive. To accomplish any work you had to walk down the hallway to an office and have an actual face-to-face conversation about a matter. As a result, there was much talking and movement that enlivened the halls. 

Instead of planned software trials, LRC's law librarian and I continued our sorting and organizing of the law library's collection. At one point, she opened her locked desk drawer and handed me this document to look at.  

It was a legal size document about 3/4 inch in depth, covered with a light blue cover and held together with three tarnishing staples. I noted the name George Bizos in the upper right corner. I thought she was showing it to me because I had enjoyed my Thursday lunch in the office "tea room" while in conversation with George Bizos about everything from US politics to growing avocados.

George Bizos

George Bizos is Nelson Mandela's attorney and an internationally renowned and respected human rights lawyer. On Monday the Marikana miners won legal funding for their case (a major legal matter in which he is involved) and on Wednesday he was named one of the 21 Icons of South Africa. Lunch conversation with a few office colleagues in the "tea room" on Thursday was just what he needed to round out his week. But I digress.

I gently opened the document. My first glance took in what looked to be the work of a manual typewriter on slightly graying bond style typewriter paper. Anyone over the age of 50 will remember that slightly slick paper on which we typed our college papers. The first words would stun me with their historical significance.

Just last night I had read these same words in Nelson Mandela's book, Long Walk to Freedom. I came to realize that I was looking at a typewritten draft of his statement to the court. He was the first defense witness at the 1964 "treason" trial. As I cautiously turned the pages, I noted Nelson Mandela's handwritten comments and marveled at his eloquence and passion. Less than two months later, at the age of 46, he would be sentenced to life in prison.

I had read these words the night before and been touched. Yet the ability to touch and marvel at this historical document made it so much more real.This draft of the statement is 60 pages long and includes original signatures. The statement concludes with this iconic passage. George Bizos is credited with adding the phrase "if need be." As noted in the 21 Icons of South Africa  photo caption, many believe it is these three words that resulted in the imposition of life sentences rather than the death penalty.
During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. 
This document and many other of LRC's historical documents have been digitized and preserved in the archives at the University of Witwatersrand (WITS) in Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa. 


  1. I was a little nervous touching it; all those rules from archive class came back to me.