South African’s National Liberation Movement

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Treason trial


Foreword by Chief Albert Luthuli to a book by Helen Joseph, 1963

20 July 1963

`What are Kingdoms without Justice
but large robber bands?`
St. Augustine

Mrs. Helen Joseph has made an important contribution to the literature of the liberatory movement in South Africa.

The treason trial must occupy a special place in South African history. That grim pre-dawn raid, deliberately calculated to strike terror into hesitant minds and impress upon the entire nation the determination of the governing clique to stifle all opposition, made one hundred and fifty-six of us, belonging to all the races of our land, into a group of accused facing one of the most serious charges in any legal system.

When I used to sit with my co-accused during the dreary, soul-searing proceedings of the Preparatory Examination, my mind would insistently go back to the great similarity of techniques and methods that marked the nightmare of Hitlerism from which we thought we had emerged barely a decade ago.

The dictatorial minority which ruled South Africa made a desperate gamble when it decided to indict a large section of its opponents for treason. The reason and intention are obvious. In most parts of the world, law and order are still supposed to be the supreme good. Whatever is, is supposed to be right by some strange logic. The universal prevalence of this view shows to what extent humanity is still under the thraldom of mere habit. Innovators and initiators of progressive change are always suspect, and all the more to be dreaded and put out of the way if they are addicted to irresponsible violence, or, nowadays if they are merely suspected of keeping company with Communism. Nationalist logic was naively simple, almost to the point of stupidity. They would convict us of being Communists, of not only having dark designs to overthrow the State, the established order, by violence, but of actually plotting the means to this end. They would also drive terror into would-be opponents, showing them the high cost of opposition, in the way of disrupted families, insecurity, loss of employment and the host of difficulties which attend such lengthy trials. The treason trial would be notice to the world, especially to `Communism-haunted` people of the Western World, that the minority White Government of South Africa is indeed a bastion of Western Civilisation (whatever that may mean), and a foremost ally in the struggle against Communism.

In its pathetic progress, the trial degenerated into a crude attempt to brand us and our organisations as Communist. But, indeed, as it so often happens, `the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley.` This supposed master-move of the then Minister of Justice, this trial to end all trials, ended in foredoomed, miserable failure – a failure which may well mark the beginning of the end for this ugly interlude of Nationalist rule over our fair land. For at the time the pre-dawn raids were carried out and the trial began, Nationalism was rampant, in full cry, and the Jericho Walls of White Rule in South Africa were still without a breach, while the ugly form of Apartheid was spreading its shadow over the land in greater volume and ampler sweep. At the end of the trial, the granite walls still remain, but they certainly reveal a few very significant cracks. Victory is certainly not in sight, nor near, but at least, the forces of progress have been vindicated.

And not only that! The trial has been an inestimable blessing because it forged together diverse men and women of goodwill of all races who rallied to the support of the Treason Trial Fund and to keeping up the morale of the accused. What would have been the plight of the accused without our Bishop Reeves, Alan Paton, Dr. Hellman, Canon Collins, Alex Hepple, Christian Action, Archbishop de Blank, and Archbishop Hurley and all the other loyal men and women without whose help and co-operation, chaos would have prevailed in our ranks? We shudder to think even of the prospect of how we would have fared if they had not come forward. In all humility I can say that if there is one thing which helped push our movement along non-racial lines, away from narrow, separative racialism, it is the treason trial, which showed the depth of the sincerity and devotion to a noble cause on the white side of the colour line, ranging from those already mentioned to the brilliant team of legal men who defended us so magnificently for so little financial reward. To all these gallant helpers, I should like to say on behalf of all the accused that our future course of conduct will justify your help, for in all things we shall be motivated by the noble urge of human unity rather than division and separativeness.