In response to the growing unity and strength of the Congress Movement as a united front following the adoption of the Freedom Charter, the government arrested 156 political leaders in a mass police swoop on 5 December 1956 and charged them with high treason, a grave charge carrying the death penalty. They were accused of participating in a treasonable conspiracy, inspired by international Communism, to overthrow the South African State by violent means. The trial dragged on for four years, with the last accused being acquitted in 1961.
Extracts from the testimony by Mandela in 1960, responding as spokesman for the accused to questions from the bench, the prosecution and the defence lawyers on the content of ANC documents and question of violent intent on the part of those on trial.
PROSECUTION: Do you think that your People's Democracy could be achieved by a process of gradual reforms? Suppose, as a result of pressure, the ruling class were to agree next month to a qualified franchise for the Africans, an educational test perhaps-not a stringent one-and next year, as a result of further pressure, a more important concession is made-a further concession is made in 1962, and so on over a period of ten or twenty years-do you think that the People's Democracy could be achieved in that fashion?