The 11th February 2017 is a significant date in South African history. It marks 27 years since former South African president, Nelson Mandela, was released from prison, after having spent 27 years incarcerated.
Mandela was arrested on the 5th August 1962 while driving from Durban to Johannesburg. He was posing as a chauffeur, going under the alias of David Motsamayi, the name of a former client, when his car was pulled over on the R103 near Howick. The story is often reported as a ‘random roadblock’, but it seems far more likely that the police were waiting for Mandela, and knew to expect him on that day in that area.
In his autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom, Mandela describes the events leading up to his arrest. “At Cedara, a small town just past Howick, I noticed a Ford V-8 filled with white men shoot past us on the right… I knew in that instant that my life on the run was over; my seventeen months of ‘freedom’ were about to end. When our car stopped, a tall slender man with a stern expression came directly over to the window on the passenger side. He was unshaven and it appeared that he had not slept in quite a while. I immediately assumed he had been waiting for us for several days.”
Mandela was arrested and charged with leaving the country without valid documents, and inciting a workers’ strike. He was sentenced to five years in prison, which would have meant his release in 1967, however a year later the government raided Lilliesleaf farm in Rivonia, which had been used as an ANC hideout. During the raid documents describing uMkhonto we Sizwe’s (MK) plans for guerrilla warfare were discovered. Eleven ANC leaders, including Nelson Mandela, were arrested and charged with crimes under the 1962 Sabotage Act. As Commander in Chief of MK Mandela was found guilty on four charges of sabotage, and on the 12th June 1964 he and seven of his co-defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment, narrowly escaping the death sentence.
There have been many rumours over the years as to how Mandela was eventually caught. Some believe that it was sloppiness on the part of Mandela and his colleagues in the days leading up to his arrest (Mandela was seated in the passenger seat when the car was stopped – odd position for a chauffeur), while others are of the firm belief that the CIA were working in conjunction with the South African government, and it was information provided by the Americans that led to Mandela’s eventual arrest. Mandela was viewed as a communist by the US, who at the time were engaged in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, so it’s possible that the story has some credibility to it. It’s a rumour though, that was given more weight last year when on his death bed, Donald Rickard, an American diplomat based in South Africa at the time of Mandela’s arrest, confessed to being directly involved in the arrest of Mandela. “I found out when he was coming down and how he was coming… that’s where I was involved and that’s where Mandela was caught,” Rickard is quoted as saying.
In 2012, on the 50th anniversary of the arrest of Nelson Mandela, a large steel sculpture of Mandela was unveiled at what has come to be known as the Mandela Capture Site. The sculpture, in conjunction with the neighbouring visitors centre, is a permanent reminder of the historic events that took place on a quiet road in a sleepy town some fifty-five years ago.