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The City hopes a newly launched multimedia exhibition on the historic Rivonia trial ignites public interest in some of the seminal moments of South Africa’s struggle history and will help stimulate tourism in Johannesburg.

Dubbed Courts as Struggle sites – The Rivonia trial: 1963-1964, the exhibition at MuseuMAfricA lays bare a historical timeline of events to portray how the 10 accused used the court system to challenge the oppressive apartheid government, says Cllr Margaret Arnolds, the MMC for Community Development.

Curated by Fanie Motsoeneng and David Kola, the long-term installation examines an assortment of ground-breaking changes that swept through South Africa in the 60s. It features print, including newspaper clippings, audio, text and photographic materials. Through weaving various narratives of the landmark Rivonia trial as captured by the media during that time, the exhibition marks a spectacular display of some of the country’s momentous moments.

Cllr Arnolds says a brief walkabout of the exhibition offers visitors a perspective on the stark difference in the reportage between the British and the Afrikaans media during the trial.

All accused individuals in the Rivonia trial were influential South African political figures at the time, including Andrew Mlangeni, Denis Goldberg, Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Rusty Bernstein, James Kantor, Elias Motsoaledi and Raymond Mhlaba. Some of them were arrested during a police raid of Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia, in northern Joburg, in which police confiscated an Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) document titled Operation Mayibuye, a systematic plan to turn to violence to overthrow the apartheid government.

Under the then Suppression of Communism Act, some of the defendants faced the death penalty, but Judge Quartus de Wet handed down four life sentences to eight of the 10 accused instead. Bernstein and Kantor were acquitted and the rest were flown to Robben Island to start their sentences.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is also a prominent political figure in the exhibition. Affectionately known as ‘Mama Winnie’, she’s seen in several photographs with then-husband Nelson Mandela during the trial at the Palace of Justice in Pretoria, the capital city.

Although the suspects were charged with and convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the state violently, their trial gained global traction and intensified political turmoil and the fight for liberation, altering the course of South African history.

Cllr Arnolds says visitors can expect to discover what the impact of the trial that marked a global watershed moment in the resistance and condemnation of apartheid – really was.

“You’ll be taken on a guided tour of the exhibition to witness the history that is documented. It’s a walk down memory lane. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the exhibition will also feature a digital instalment,” she explains.

Located in the suburb of Newtown – Joburg’s arts and culture precinct – MuseuMAfricA in downtown Johannesburg is the City’s social and cultural history institution. It is housed in what was once the city’s fruit and vegetable market, with a block-long facade, towering pillars and enormous interior space. MuseuMAfricA is a rich treasure trove of knowledge and nostalgia pertaining to socio-political, geological, and economic affairs of South Africa, with a particular focus on urban life in Johannesburg since the discovery of gold in 1886.

Apart from historical displays, MuseuMAfricA also features the South African Rock Art Museum, the Bensusan Museum of Photography and the Geological Museum. It is the only museum that attempts to relay the story of life in Southern Africa from the Stone Age to the nuclear age and beyond, using extensive collections, recent research, and the advice of experts in the fields of geology, archaeology, anthropology and history. There’s also an interesting section on a more recent phenomenon – squatter camps and shebeens.

Cllr Arnolds invites members of the public to view the long-term exhibition at MuseuMAfricA on Lilian Ngoyi Street in Newtown. Entrance is free for children, students and pensioners. Exhibition hours are Tuesday to Sunday from 9 am to 5 pm. The museum is closed on Mondays, Christmas Day, Day of Reconciliation, Good Friday and the Day of Goodwill. Telephone the museum on 011 833 5624 for more information.


Written by Gugu Zwane