A raid on the ANC hideout of Lilliesleaf farm in Rivonia produced documents describing MK’s plans for attacks and guerilla warfare. The government charged 11 ANC leaders, including Mandela, with crimes under the 1962 Sabotage Act. In court, Mandela chose not to take the witness stand. Instead, from the dock, he admitted to many of the charges against him and defended his use of violence:
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
If anyone attempted to make a mockery of a defence for violence, it has to be the misguided sycophant who told the court on Monday that he wanted to teach his victim “a lesson” for disrespecting Singapore’s former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew:
"This child is so disobedient that even the elders, parents, police, the court and the society will not have any impact on him.... I remember how arrogant he was…That’s why I thought by giving him one slap would instill fear in him, and also let him know what are the ways of the world.”
Whatever the aberrations of the case, he got one part right. It was never about religion or obscenity. The three weeks in jail meted to him for a slap that was probably heard around the world will pass quickly, but the on-going lessons to be learned will be forever embedded in our history books.
It has been said that Robben Island became the crucible which transformed Mandela. He emerged from it the mature leader who would fight and win the great political battles that created a new democratic South Africa. Let's hope that Changi Prison will also be a transforming experience.