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Power of the people 1962

About Nelson Mandela’s mysteriously buried gun

By Alix Jans

Amandla!” called Nelson as he appeared at the top of the stairwellin the courtroom. “Ngawethu!” roared his supporters inresponse. They were on their feet, their fists held high. The

chant rolled back and forth, sweeping across the packed gallerieslike a wild fire fanned by the winds of change.He thrilled at the cherished call and response—”Power! It shallbe ours!” It seemed to invoke the soul of a people determined toshake off the shackles of bondage. He waved at the crowd andsat down.

The magistrate was speechless. The chanting was one thing,but nobody had expected Nelson to appear in full Xhosa tribaldress, including a leopard-skin cloak thrown over his bareshoulders, a traditional beaded necklace as wide as a dinnerplate around his neck and beads on his arms.

Nelson was surprised the magistrate had agreed to allow himto address the court before entering a plea. He stood, adjusted theleopard-skin cloak, rolled his shoulders and head as though preparing

for the opening bell in his township boxing ring, and beganto speak.

“First, as a preliminary matter, I must insist that Your Worshiprecuse himself from this trial,” he said in a strong voice to makesure everyone in the gallery could hear his words.The magistrate looked at him in disbelief. “I beg your pardon,Mr. Mandela. What did you say?”“That you must recuse yourself, Your Worship. How can I geta fair trial in this court?” he demanded. “My case involves a clashbetween the aspirations of the black people and those of the whitepeople. Yet the whites pass all the laws, appoint all the judgesand make all the decisions.” He glared at the magistrate. “How

can anyone think the scales of justice are evenly balanced? I feeloppressed by the atmosphere of white domination that lurks allaround in this courtroom—”

“Mr. Mandela,” interrupted the magistrate, “I gave you permissionas a courtesy to address the court before entering a plea. Ido not expect you to take advantage of the courtesy and use the

court as a political platform. You are charged with straightforwardcriminal acts that apply equally to blacks as well as to whites.You are an officer of the court. You and I know each other. You

have always shown respect for the legal system and I expect you todo so now.” The magistrate paused, stone-faced. “I will not recusemyself, Mr. Mandela. How do you plead?”

Momentarily stung by the reprimand, Nelson fingered hisleopard-skin cloak as he gathered his thoughts. The magistratewas right and he felt a twinge of shame for taking advantage of a

man he respected. But respect had run its course. Old norms nolonger applied. This was a new chapter in the struggle, and he waswriting the script on his feet.

“Your Worship, no matter how strong your own sense of fairnessand justice might be, a system that makes a white judgesit in judgment over a case in which whites are an interestedparty cannot be impartial and fair. It is improper and againstthe elementary principles of justice to entrust whites with casesinvolving their denial of basic human rights to the black people ofthis country. The atmosphere inside the courtroom calls to mindthe inhuman injustices inflicted on my people outside this courtroomby this same white domination.”

The magistrate stared hard, tight-lipped, his jawbones flexing.There was not a sound in the courtroom—such a public exchangehad never been heard before.“Have you finished your statement, Mr. Mandela?” asked themagistrate, his expression dark, his tone terse.

“One more thing, Your Worship,” he said. “This courtroomreminds me that I am voteless because there is a parliament inthis country that is white controlled. I am without land because

the white minority has taken a lion’s share of my country andforced me to occupy poverty-stricken reserves, overpopulated andoverstocked. And we are ravaged by starvation and disease.”

The magistrate held up his hand as though demanding silence.“Your Worship,” he continued, ignoring the implied command,“I hate discrimination most intensely and in all its manifestations.

I have fought it during my life, I fight it now and I will fight it untilthe end of my days. Even though I happen to be tried by one whoseopinion I hold in high esteem, I detest most violently the system

that makes me feel that I am a black man in a white man’s court.This should not be.”

“Mr. Mandela! That is quite enough.”

“No, Your Worship. With respect, it is not nearly enough.” Thetwo men glared at each other like gladiators, oblivious to theirsurroundings, intent only on the immediate existential confrontation.

“The injustice in this court simply reflects the injustice inour society, Your Worship. The whites suppress our aspirations,bar our way to freedom and deny us opportunities to promoteour moral and material progress, to secure ourselves from fearand want. All the good things of life are reserved for whites,and we blacks are expected to be content to nourish our bodieswith such pieces of food as dropped from the tables of men withwhite skins.”

The magistrate was ashen, his eyes wide.

“This is the white man’s standard of justice and fairness,”continued Nelson. “Through bitter experience, we have learnedto regard the white man as a harsh and merciless human being

whose contempt for our rights—and whose utter indifferenceto the promotion of our welfare—makes his assertions to usabsolutely meaningless and hypocritical.” He paused, gathering

himself. “This is an extremely dangerous situation for our countryand for our people. If these wrongs are not remedied withoutdelay, we might well find that even plain talk such as this is too

timid, too little and too late.” He paused again, meeting the exasperatedmagistrate’s hard glare. “I make no threat, Your Worship,but it is almost past noon. If there is to be a peaceful transformation

of our country, it must happen now.”

The magistrate removed his glasses and pressed a thumb andforefinger into his eye sockets, as though massaging visions ofviolent revolution and horror from his mind’s eye.“How do you plead, Mr. Mandela?” he asked in a tired voice.“With respect, Your Worship, I do not consider myself legally ormorally bound to obey laws made by a parliament in which I haveno representation. I am not guilty of any crimes.”

.This is an extract from Amandla by Alix Jans. Published by Fynbos Press. Available in all good bookstores. Recommended Retail Price: R335

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