585. Telegram From the Embassy in South Africa to the Department of State1

168. Reference: Department telegrams 116 and 118, Embassy telegrams 158, 164 and 167.2 Rivonia Trial.3

I read following statement to FonSec Jooste yesterday afternoon:

“Nigerian Foreign Minister Wachuku has expressed to our Ambassador in Lagos his view that if death penalty should be imposed and carried out on Mandela and other defendants in Rivonia sabotage trial it would place moderate African leaders like himself and Government of Nigeria, who are attempting to follow a reasonable course on SA problem, in an impossible situation. I know that you are aware that Mr. Wachuku has taken a moderate position regarding SA and I thought that SAG would wish to know his thinking.”

I then said I would take advantage of opportunity to make following observation:

“While I fully realize that Rivonia case is before the court, and that SAG as well as everyone else must wait court’s findings, I also think that SAG should be aware that considerable concern exists among Americans, who follow SA developments within and outside of USG, about possibility and consequences of death sentences in Rivonia trial.”

Jooste took careful notes. His reaction to Wachuku’s statement was calm. To my own observation however he reacted rather violently saying he thought that any comment on trial in process was interference with SA’s domestic affairs and judicial procedure. He asked why it was that SA was only country in world which is being subjected to such treatment. Observing that SA courts were known for their fairness and objectivity, he asked whether USG, which is leader in fighting Communism, would stand for a minute for any interference by SAG in any trial of subversives going on in US. Moreover he said defendants in Rivonia trial were being tried for crimes against Constitution and laws of SA. Had we, he asked, made similar observation to other governments whose names he would not mention where no trials were held for persons simply opposing government? Did my government, he asked, pass on to US court [Page 984] trying the Rosenbergs the international protests that were made or comply with their pleas for clemency?

To this outburst I pointed out that I was not making a representation but only an observation and reminded him of Plimpton’s explanation of our vote on October 11 resolution quoted Department telegram 2077 to New Delhi.4 Jooste calmed down and said he recognized that views I had expressed were indeed moderate in tone.

Comment: Strong reaction of Jooste, who is reasonable man of moderate views and great experience and skill in international affairs, to my very moderate statement convinces me that any further representations on our part while trial is in process can only be counter-productive and could indeed contribute to a state of mind on part of SAG which might lead it to reject appeals for clemency if death sentences should unfortunately be imposed and upheld by Appellate Division of SA Supreme Court. I would like to add very serious warning that any reply to appeal of the Apartheid Committee along lines of Stevenson draft as reported to us by the British (Embassy telegram 167—we apologize for misspelling his name in that telegram) could be expected to provoke sharp reaction from SA Government and have counter-productive effects as far as possibility of death penalties is concerned. It could also endanger our current highly delicate diplomatic efforts with SAG re SWA.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 29 S AFR. Confidential; Priority. Repeated to London, USUN, Pretoria, and Lagos.
  2. Telegram 116 to Cape Town, April 17; telegram 118 to Cape Town, April 20; telegram 158 from Cape Town, April 17; telegram 164 from Cape Town, April 20; telegram 167 from Cape Town, April 21; none printed. (Ibid.)
  3. In the “Rivonia” trial, nine African Nationalist leaders, including Nelson Mandela, were charged with planning and carrying out sabotage. The Rivonia trial was so called because of the arrest of a number of the defendants on a farm in Rivonia, Transvaal.
  4. Dated April 15. (Department of State, Central Files, POL 29 S AFR)