Great Trials IV Lecture Series - The Trials of Nelson Mandela


The Great Trials lecture series considers a collection of history-making trials across time and examines the social and political contexts in which they took place as well as their cultural consequences. The series takes the position that ‘law’ happens as much outside the courtroom as it does within it, and that each of these pivotal events stands as testament to the ways in which constructions of authority, law, and justice have informed cultural consciousness across centuries.

IPLAI is pleased to offer the lectures in this series for CLE credit through the Barreau du Québec.

After Nelson Mandela and other Rivonia trialists were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964, the apartheid government was hoping to silence them and erase their memory from the minds of their fellow citizens. Under South Africa’s laws at the time, all imprisoned or banned people could not be quoted or have their pictures circulated. However, the effect was the opposite of what the government intended. In the following decades, while Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island, pictures of him at the time of the trial and his statement from the dock became globally recognized icons of the struggle against injustice in South Africa. In this lecture we will look at the Treason Trial (1956-1960), the Rivonia Trial (1963-1964) and their aftermath to meditate on which aspects were publicly remembered and which forgotten, and how they contributed to Nelson Mandela’s global image as the symbol of the anti-apartheid struggle.

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