Nelson Mandela and others found not guilty in Treason Trial
The Treason Trial was a trial in which 156 people (105 Blacks, 21 Indians, 23 Whites and 7 Coloureds), including Nelson Mandela, were arrested in a raid and accused of treason in South Africa in 1956.
This was almost the entire executive of the African National Congress (ANC), Congress of Democrats, South African Indian Congress, Coloured People's Congress, and the South African Congress of Trade Unions (collectively known as the Congress Alliance). They were charged with "high treason and a countrywide conspiracy to use violence to overthrow the present government and replace it with a communist state." The punishment for high treason was death.
The accused were represented by a legal team which included Israel (Isie) Maisels, Sydney Kentridge, Vernon Berrangé and Bram Fischer. A Treason Trial Defense Fund was started up by Bishop Ambrose Reeves, writer Alan Paton, and Alex Hepple to pay the bail of the accused.
The trial required two stages, a preparatory examination in a magistrates court which would determine if there was sufficient evidence to support a trial, and then, if evidence existed, a trial by the Supreme Court. The preparatory examination of the case lasted until January 1958 (over a year), and resulted in charges against 61 of the accused being dropped - 95 people were still facing trial.
The main trial lasted until 1961, when all of the defendants were found not guilty. During the trials, Oliver Tambo left the country and was exiled. Whilst in other European and African countries he opened up an organization which helped bring publicity to the African National Congress's cause in South Africa. Some of the defendants were later convicted in the Rivonia Trial in 1964.
What Was the Outcome of the Treason Trial?
Within a week of the trail starting, one of the two charges under the Suppression of Communism Act was dropped. Two months later the Crown announced that the whole indictment was being dropped, only to issue an new indictment against 30 people - all members of the ANC. Additional indictments against another 61 people were threatened but were never realized.
Chief Albert Luthuli and Oliver Tambo were released for lack of evidence. Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu (ANC secretary-general) were among the final 30 accused.
On 29 March 1961 Justice FL Rumpff interrupted the defense summation with a verdict. He announced that although the ANC was working to replace the government and had used illegal means of protest during the Defiance Campaign, the Crown had failed to show that the ANC was using violence to overthrow the government, and were therefore not-guilty of treason. The Crown had failed to establish any revolutionary intent behind the defendant's actions. Having been found non-guilty, the remaining 30 accused were discharged.