Trials and prison chronology

Trials and prison chronology

Prison numbers

  • 7 November 1962: 19476/62 – Pretoria Local Prison
  • 1963: 11657/63 – Pretoria Local Prison. When he returned to Pretoria after a short spell on Robben Island
  • June 1964: 466/64 – Robben Island
  • March 1982: 220/82 – Pollsmoor Prison
  • 7 December 1988: 1335/88 – Victor Verster Prison

Trials and prison chronology

2 December 1952: Nelson Mandela is convicted with 19 others for his role in the 1952 Defiance Campaign and sentenced to nine months’ hard labour, suspended for two years

21 March 1960: Sixty-nine peaceful protesters are killed by police at Sharpeville

8 April 1960: Apartheid regime bans the African National Congress (ANC) and Pan Africanist Congress (PAC)

29 March 1961: Mandela is acquitted with 27 remaining accused in the four-and-a-half year Treason Trial. Immediately goes underground

11 January 1962: Leaves the country for military training and to gather support for the newly formed armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto weSizwe

23 July 1962: Returns to South Africa via Botswana

5 August 1962: Arrested at a roadblock near Howick, KwaZulu-Natal

7 November 1962: Sentenced to five years for incitement and leaving the country illegally. Begins serving his sentence at Pretoria Local Prison and is assigned the prisoner number 19476/62

27 May 1963: Transferred to Robben Island Prison

12 June 1963: Transferred to Pretoria Local Prison

9 October 1963: Appears, for the first time, with 10 others in the Palace of Justice in Pretoria. They become the accused in the Rivonia Trial. The case is remanded to 29 October

Nelson Mandela
Walter Sisulu
Govan Mbeki
Ahmed Kathrada
Raymond Mhlaba
Denis Goldberg
Elias Motsoaledi
Rusty Bernstein
Bob Hepple
Andrew Mlangeni
James Kantor

29 October 1963: The defence applies for the quashing of the indictment alleging 199 acts of sabotage

30 October 1963: Prosecutor Percy Yutar announces that Bob Hepple would become a state witness. He is released and skips the country. The indictment against the 10 others is quashed. They are immediately rearrested

1 November 1963: Justice De Wet refuses bail to Kantor and Bernstein. The case is remanded to 12 November

12 November 1963:  Yutar presents a new indictment splitting the sabotage charges into two parts. The case is remanded to 25 November

25 November 1963: The 199 alleged acts of sabotage are reduced to 193. The defence applies to have the new indictment quashed

26 November 1963: Justice De Wet dismisses the application to have the indictment quashed

27 November 1963: The trial is remanded to 3 December, after Kantor’s new defence requests time to prepare

3 December 1963: The 10 accused plead not guilty to sabotage in the Rivonia Trial

20 April 1964: Mandela makes his famous Speech from the Dock, in which he says he is “prepared to die” for a democratic South Africa

11 June 1964: All except Bernstein and Kantor are convicted of sabotage

12 June 1964: Mandela and seven others are sentenced to life imprisonment

12 June 1964: All except Goldberg are sent to Robben Island to serve their sentences. Goldberg, as the only white person convicted in the trial, is held in Pretoria Central Prison. Mandela is assigned the prisoner number 466/64

24 September 1968: Mandela’s mother Nosekeni dies. He is forbidden from attending her funeral

13 July 1969: Mandela’s eldest son, Thembekile, is killed in a car accident. He is forbidden from attending his funeral

31 March 1982: Mandela, Sisulu, Mhlaba and Mlangeni, and later Kathrada, are transferred to Pollsmoor Prison. Mandela is assigned the prisoner number 220/82

10 February 1985: Rejects President PW Botha’s offers to release him and other political prisoners if he renounces violence

28 February 1985: Goldberg, who has been held apart from his comrades for more than 20 years, accepts the offer and is released

3 November 1985: Is admitted to the Volks Hospital in Cape Town for prostate surgery

23 November 1985: Is discharged from the Volks Hospital and held in a cell alone at Pollsmoor Prison, from where he begins communicating with the government about eventual talks with the ANC

16 May 1986: Meets with an Eminent Persons Group from the Commonwealth Group of Nations

20 July 1986: Holds his first meeting with Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee about talks between the government and the ANC

5 November 1987: Govan Mbeki is released from Robben Island

12 August 1988: Is admitted to Tygerberg Hospital, where he is diagnosed with tuberculosis

31 August 1988: Is transferred to Constantiaberg MediClinic to continue his treatment

7 December 1988: Is transferred to Victor Verster Prison near Paarl, where he is held in the house formerly occupied by a warder. Mandela is assigned the prisoner number 1335/88

5 July 1989: Meets PW Botha in his office in Cape Town

15 October 1989: Sisulu, Kathrada, Motsoaledi, Mlangeni and Mhlaba are released, along with Oscar Mpetha and PAC prisoner Jeff Masemola

13 December 1989: Meets President FW de Klerk at his office in Cape Town

2 February 1990: At the opening of Parliament, De Klerk announces the unbanning of all political organisations, including the ANC

10 February 1990: Meets De Klerk and is informed he will be released the next day in Johannesburg. Mandela objects, saying he wants to walk through the gates of Victor Verster Prison, and asks for two weeks for ANC to prepare. De Klerk refuses the extension but agrees to release him at Victor Verster

10 February 1990: De Klerk announces at a press conference that Nelson Mandela will be released the next day

11 February 1990: Nelson Mandela is released from Victor Verster Prison

11 February 1990: He addresses thousands of well-wishers gathered on the Grand Parade, from the balcony of the City Hall in Cape Town. Spends the night at Bishopscourt, the official residence of the Archbishop of Cape Town

12 February 1990: Holds a press conference in the garden of Bishopscourt. Flies to Johannesburg

12 February 1990: Spends the night in Northriding, at the home of a supporter, Sally Rowney

13 February 1990: Flies to FNB Stadium in Soweto for a welcome home rally

13 February 1990: Spends his first night in decades at his family home, at 8115 Orlando West, Soweto