No Easy Walk to Freedom: Nelson Mandela in the Archives

[IMAGE Nelson Mandela with Mary Benson]

[IMAGE Nelson Mandela with Mary Benson] Within the Institute of Commonwealth Studies collections in Senate House Library is a wealth of material relating to the struggle within, and outside of, South Africa against the apartheid system. With the passing of Nelson Mandela it is timely to highlight parts of the collection relating to Nelson Mandela.

The Nelson Mandela Trials collection (ICS52) consists of photocopies of papers collected by Joel Joffe, the lawyer acting for Nelson Mandela, relating to Mandela’s trial in Pretoria (1962) and the Rivonia Trial (1963-1964); including Mandela’s application to have the Pretoria trial postponed; Mandela’s address to the court in mitigation of the sentence of five years imprisonment, detailing his political commitment and activities in the African National Congress (ANC); a copy of the indictment in the Rivonia Trial, the initial statement made by Mandela to his lawyers, giving details of his early life; notes by Mandela on his life and ANC association; a copy of Mandela’s statement from the dock, signed by Mandela, manuscript notes by Mandela to use if he were sentenced to death, and manuscript notes by Mandela referring to the tribal council called Imbizo.

Mary Benson was born on 8 December 1919 in Pretoria, South Africa. In 1950 she became secretary to Michael Scott and first became involved in the field of race relations. In 1957 she became secretary to the Treason Trials Defence Fund in Johannesburg. She became a close friend of Nelson Mandela, and assisted with smuggling him out of South Africa in 1962. In February 1966 she was served with a banning order under the Suppression of Communism Act and she left South Africa for London later that year, continuing to work tirelessly against apartheid. In April 1999 Mandela visited her at her home during his state visit to Britain and later that year an 80th birthday party was staged for her at South Africa House. Among Mary Benson’s writings are ‘South Africa: the Struggle for a Birthright’, ‘Chief Albert Luthuli’, ‘The History of Robben Island’, ‘Nelson Mandela: the Man and the Movement’, the autobiographical ‘A Far Cry’ and radio plays on Mandela and the Rivonia trial. Material within the papers of Mary Benson (ICS6) include newspaper cuttings, correspondence, notes, and articles on Nelson Mandela and other prisoners on Robben Island, and material gathered by Mary Benson for her biography of Nelson Mandela. The collection also includes correspondence with Winnie Mandela and some photographs of Nelson Mandela from his visits in London.

South African activist, journalist, writer and academic Ruth First was heavily involved in activism and journalism opposing the apartheid regime in South Africa. In 1955 she helped draw up the Freedom Charter, a fundamental document of the African National Congress, and was later a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the ANC’s military wing. In December 1956, she and her husband Joe Slovo were among the 156 people charged in the so-called Treason Trial, although her indictment was dismissed in April 1959. In August 1963 she was arrested and detained under the 90-Day Law for a total period of 117 days. Effectively forced into exile, in March 1964 she left South Africa for the United Kingdom, accompanied by her three daughters. From 1964 she worked full-time as a freelance writer, before becoming a Research Fellow at the University of Manchester in 1972. Between 1973-1978 she lectured in development studies at the University of Durham, although she spent periods of secondment at universities in Dar es Salaam and Lourenco Marques (Maputo). In November 1978 she took up a post as Director of the research training programme at the University Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo. Ruth First was killed on 17 August 1982, when she opened a parcel bomb addressed to her at the above university. Among other publications Ruth First wrote the foreword for and edited Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, No Easy Walk to Freedom. The Ruth First papers,(ICS117)   include background material for the book, correspondence re publication and between First and President Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria, a number of draft sections, as well as a file of reviews after publication.

The CIIR collection (ICS151) includes material related to the Release Mandela Campaign, transcripts of an interview with Winnie Mandela, and copies of speeches and articles by Mandela.

The Library collection also includes a large number of published work relating to Nelson Mandela and authored by him.

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