590. Memorandum From the Deputy Director for Southern African Affairs (Hooper) to the Deputy Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Hilliker)1


  • Item for the President’s Evening Reading Memorandum

The Rivonia Trial

More than 90 trials for subversion and sabotage in South Africa have taken place since January 1963. The most important of these is the “Rivonia” trial, held at Pretoria, in which the court is expected to hand down a judgment about June 11. The nine defendants are charged with planning and carrying out sabotage and six have confessed their guilt. Our Embassy estimates that the death penalty will not be imposed on any of these six and that one or more others may be acquitted. The trial has dramatized, through defendants’ statements, the degree to which ever harsher measures denying opportunities for peaceful political protest against apartheid in South Africa have influenced the non-whites to turn to violent methods. Two of the best-known leaders of the African political opposition, who are officers of the African National Congress, Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, are among the accused. The trial has already occasioned world-wide attention and protests by church and civil rights groups and there has been considerable public concern about these and other political trials evidenced in this country. International support for amnesty for South African political prisoners and clemency for persons convicted in trials such as the “Rivonia” trial has been growing. In April our Ambassador conveyed to the South African Government our concern over the possibility and consequences of death sentences in the “Rivonia” trial. In our view such sentences, if carried out, would seriously increase the obstacles to a peaceful solution of South African problems.2

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 29 S AFR. Limited Official Use. Drafted by Runyon and Hall.
  2. On June 9, by a vote of 7 to 0 with 4 abstentions (including the United States), the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 190 (1964) appealing to the South African Government to end the Rivonia trial. For text, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1964, pp. 796–797. For text of U.S. Representative Plimpton’s statement expressing U.S. opposition to interference in the judicial process of South Africa, see ibid., pp. 797–798. On June 12, eight of the nine defendants were found guilty of sabotage and sentenced to life imprisonment.