Nelson Mandela - Why I am Ready to Die




Nelson Mandela and his colleagues are incarcerated for life; yet it is their presence which dominates the scene in South Africa. In this speech—recorded here by Peter Finch—addressed to the court when he was on trial for his life, Nelson Mandela reveals that it is he and the men like him who are the true statesmen with the breadth of vision and the understanding that will make their land free where all men shall be equal and live in peace and in dignity. It is the Government of South Africa which is shown up in all its inhuman bigotry and which stands accused before the bar of world opinion.
I am confident, that despite the prison bars, despite the tortures and the oppression, the spirit of freedom that is in Nelson Mandela is irresistible. One day he and his colleagues will be free to lead their people to fulfillment and happiness.

John Collins

Rt. Hon. Harold Wilson, O.B.E., M.P.

Martyrs are usually the creation of their oppressors—men have become known for what was done to them rather than for their own innate qualities. This is not so with Nelson Mandela. It is true that he matured in the face of the challenge of apartheid. He rose to the occasion heroically. But the greatness of thought and action were there already.
They found their expression in the speech which he gave when he was on trial for his life at the Rivonia Trials in Pretoria. It was a classic of its kind and was an inspiration not just to those in South Africa but to all who believe in human freedom. It has been faithfully recorded by Peter Finch.

Harold Wilson

The Defence and Aid Fund needs no defence and deserves every aid. I am proud that a distinguished member of my
profession should have given his services to express the sympathy and admiration we must all feel for Nelson
Mandela. There are few more heartening sounds than that of eloquence in a just cause.

Laurence Olivier

Message from his Holiness
to the United Nations Special Committee on Apartheid
... "In the Encyclical pacem in terris of Pope John XXIII it is stated that relations between political communities should be harmonized in accordance with truth and in freedom and that a common origin, and equal Redemption and a similar destiny unite all men and call upon them to join in forming one Christian family.
These principles of justice, freedom and peace, based on natural law and the evangelical message, which constitute a fundamental element of the authority of the Church, are also profoundly reflected in the Charter of the United Nations and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In this time of South Africa's desperate need we appeal to the peoples of the world on behalf of the Defence and Aid
Fund. We have not forgotten it was you who helped us to defend hundreds of men and women, including Nelson
Mandela, on numerous political charges. Our needs are urgent. Men and women are detained for many months
and years and family life is disrupted. Those who oppose the Government in legitimate ways are banned and confined. Many lose their employment in this way. Even if they may be acquitted there is still no compensation for
the loss they have suffered.
Your encouragement will help to keep alive the spirit of true and honourable opposition, to help us retain our faith in the kindness of human nature, something which is all too easy to forget in our present circumstances.



... "It is necessary to state the Government's attitude in regard to sentences imposed by the courts even though the Government's reply may not yet be in the hands of the British Government.
"This is necessary in view of the public disapproval in South Africa of such attempts at interference, and so that potential saboteurs and traitors will not find encouragement in the fact that foreign governments are making representations for mitigation of sentences with the result that they lose respect for the law and continue with outrages.
"The reply includes the statement that the Government cannot allow this attempt at interference with the law and will not yield to pressure. I must make it clear to South Africa and to whoever cares to take note that the Government accepted the judgment of the court in the treason
trial when the accused were acquitted.
“Naturally, it also did not interfere with the sentences in the Rivonia case in spite of unjustified pressure and will respect and give effect to them as imposed.
"There can be no question of mitigation as a result of outside interference. If the death sentence had been imposed and upheld by the Appeal Court in the event of an appeal, it would also have been carried out notwithstanding any pressure"...

From "The Times"
29 July 1964

U Thant, Secretary-General of the United Nations, has made an "urgent and earnest appeal" to South Africa not to execute African nationalists who face death sentences for their opposition to the government's racial policies. He asked the Government not to go ahead with sentences "so as to prevent an aggravation of the situation and to facilitate peaceful efforts to resolve the situation."

..."The conditions prevailing in South Africa are not a local concern; they affect humanity as a whole. Nelson
Mandela's iniquitous trial represents a challenge to the social and moral conscience of all men who cherish
freedom. Racial discrimination and oppression is an evil which civilized society should not tolerate." ...

REV. DR. I. LEVY, O.B.E., T.D.
Minister of Hampstead Synagogue, London.

"I am glad to learn of a campaign for the release of South African political prisoners.
"We witness in South Africa today the sad spectacle of several hundred persons having been but behind bars under the provisions of apartheid laws which have rightly been condemned by enlightened public opinion throughout the world. We in India have unequivocally expressed our opposition to these laws which run counter to the spirit of the U.N. Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and indeed, the basic principles of civilized human behaviour. The trials of several hundred political prisoners who are languishing in jails for alleged political offences presents a challenge to human dignity.
"I earnestly hope that the World Campaign for the Release of South African Political Prisoners will help to bring about a change of heart in the Government of South Africa leading to its abandoning its oppressive racial policies. l wish the Campaign every success."



It is always unwise of governments to try a man for treason, and the more autocratic the government the greater its unwisdom. When a man stands trial for treason or sedition or any other crime of political renegacy, his prosecutors are, by their very definition, being tried too. The traitor's guilt and the lawmaker's innocence are only different aspects of the same issue, and those who may feel inclined to grope for a neutral position in the case of Nelson Mandela versus the South African Government will not thank me for pointing out that one or other of the parties involved must be guilty of deplorable crimes. They cannot both be innocent. They cannot both be guilty.

In the strictly juridical sense there is no riddle at all. Mandela was patently guilty of sabotage at the Rivonia trial and the court logically justified in saying so. Indeed, it was the one point on which Mandela and the State were agreed. Mandela not only acknowledges his guilt but is proud of it, which paradoxically enough, is the most potent argument in his favour. His defiance of the state means, as it always must do in trials of this kind, that either he or it belongs on the scrapheap, and there is no doubt in the civilised mind who is the culprit in South Africa.

The issues raised at the Rivonia Trial are not new ones. They are not the outcome of any special regional consideration, and they are not peculiar either to South Africa or the twentieth century, as Dr. Verwoerd, when he tells the world to mind its business, seems to believe. Those issues are the oldest in the history of civilisation, and concern the question of individual liberty. Mandela's crime is simply a refusal to accept the proposition that the nature of injustice magically changes its face when sanctified by the wig and gown of the law. It is the oldest and most vital dispute in the history of man, which is why, if one erases the purely
local references from Mandela's defence address, the residue might apply equally well to a thousand previous
crossroads in history where the individual has turned to make a stand against oppression.

One of the most telling blows struck by Mandela against the South African Government in his defence speech was the very fact that he made it at all. Dr. Verwoerd would have the world believe that the black man in South Africa is a semi-barbarous child unequipped for the subtleties of modern life. Mandela's eloquence, his grasp of constitutional procedure, the logic of his exposition and the power of his cadences make a mockery of Apartheid. How can a man be sub-human and at the same time say "Men are not capable of doing nothing, of not reacting to injustice, of not protesting against oppression, of not striving for the good society and the good life in the ways they see it"?

Mandela was born in 1918, the son of a chief, studied law at the University of the Witwatersrand, and in 1952 set up practice as a solicitor. Ever since then he has been prominent in the stuggle for sanity in South Africa.

Since Rivonia he has been a prisoner of the South African Government, which evidently fears him more than he fears it. He is serving a life sentence which, had it not been for the overwhelming weight of world opinion, would no doubt have been the death sentence instead. And there for the moment the matter rests. But whatever the South African Government may think, the issue is by no means settled yet. Today's political outlaw has been transformed by events into tomorrow's constitutional citizen too many times for the lesson to need pointing.

Mandela is ready to die for his beliefs. On this recording the rest of the world can discover for itself what those beliefs are, and ask itself the rhetorical questions, "Are those beliefs civilised, are they just, are they reasonable and are they enduring?"



In the year 1956, the South African Nationalist Government, now confidently ruthless after eight years of power, began a systematic and merciless cam pain of repression. Its victim was the whole movement of protest and opposition to apartheid policies. Before dawn on the 6th December 1956, 140 men and women were suddenly
rounded up by the police. Later that day another 16 were arrested. All were charged with Treason.

Christian Action, which for many years had drawn the attention of the British people to the menace of racial discrimination in South Africa, decided that the charges against the 156 defendants must de contested, For political offences South African law grant no automatic legal aid and Treason carries the death penalty. The best counsel available had to be found , and retained. An appeal for funds was launched in the United Kingdom and in South Africa. So began what was first known as the Treason Trial Fund.

The Treason Trial assumed the proportions of an international farce; it dragged on for 4 1/2 years before the day in March 1961, when the presiding judge pronounced the accused not guilty, and discharged them all. The costs sustained by the Fund were enormous. In addition to some £100,000 needed to cover the legal expenses provision had been made for the families and dependants of the accused who would have otherwise faced starvation.

The acquittal of the accused in the Treason Trial was a triumph in the struggle for justice and human rights. But the effect on the South African Government was to increase its ruthlessness. Eve.n before the Treason Trial ended, the notorious Sharpeville incident had shocked the civilised world: the police had opened fire on an unarmed crowd of Africans killing 68 and wounding anther 186- At the Court of Enquiry which followed this incident the Treason Trial Fund, which had widened its terms of reference and become the Defence and Aid Fund, briefed lawyers to represent the widowed and bereaved, and provided aid for widowed mothers and their children- And since the close of the trial, new repressive laws have been bulldozed, one after another, through the South African Parliament. Responsible political organisations, such as the African National Congress, have been declared illegal ; respected political leaders, like Chief Lutuli, the Nobel Peace Prize winner are persecuted; men and women, African and European alike, are harried, arrested, banned, put under house arrest and, under the notorious General Law Amendment Act
of 1961 /2 kept without trial or charge deferred, in solitary confinement for a minimum of 90 days. For all who are openly opposed to apartheid South Africa has become virtually a police state.

During these years of unrest the Defence and Aid Fund has been working to the limits of its resources; fighting legal actions, caring for the families of the victims of Government and police efforts at intimidation, rehabilitating those who lose their jobs, and coming to the aid of political refugees who are forced to seek sanctuary outside South Africa.

In August 1962, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and other leaders of the resistence were arrested and charged with sabotage—an offence carrying the death penalty. "Sabotage" and "Communism" are defined so widely in South African law that, for example, you can be found guilty of sabotage if the police arrest you on suspicion and you cannot prove your innocence, and you are a "Communist" if deemed to be one by the Minister of Justice. In the trial that followed—the Rivonia Trial the Defence and Aid Fund provided the bulk of the cost of defence. Though all but one of the accused were found guilty and given life sentences, we may believe that the help given saved them from the gallows.

During the trial Nelson Mandela, himself a lawyer, delivered a speech in his own defence. Christian Action, believing that this speech will come to be regarded widely as one of the great orations of the world, had an abridged version prepared- the full text, which took four-and-a-half hours to deliver, will be published by Christian Action later this year. Among those deeply moved by Nelson Mandela's wise and courageous declaration was Peter Finch, one of Britain's foremost actors. He agreed to record a reading of the abridged version for the benefit of the Defence and Aid Fund. At first we planned to use this tape for private and public meetings, but soon were being pressed to make this outstanding record available to a wider public.

Christian Action approached Ember Records (International) Limited. This young and enterprising firm with a fast growing reputation for recording some of the biggest names in the entertainment world of today seemed a likely 'taker'. Christian Action was right. The company was tremendously excited by the possibilities of this ‘record with a difference' and prophesied a certain commercial success. In the weeks that followed, the venture began to take shape. Famous personalities from all over the world—religious leaders, statesmen, personalities in the field of art and entertainment—all sent messages of support. Some of them are reproduced on this cover. As you read them, and as you listen to Nelson Mandela's words, so flawlessly, so characteristically rendered by Peter Finch, please think of the man who first uttered them. Think of his colleagues and fellow prisoners. Think of his and their families, and think, too, of those who, through the Defence and Aid Fund are caring for these women and children and continue without resting or relenting the task of showing the leaders and people of South Africa that human freedom and the rights of all men of every race and colour cannot be blindly ignored and brutally suppressed. They all need your help.


All the profits from the sale of this record will go to the Defence and Aid Fund (address: Christian Action, 2 Amen Court, London, E.C.4.)

Long playing 33 r.p.m. record


Phone: DILigence 1077



recorded 1964c
issued 1964
made in UK
produced by Christian Action
CEL 905
matrix LP 800 A
matrix LP 800 B
33 rpm
first issue
cover design by Gerald Fifer
source: flatinternational Archive



1.1Why I am Ready to Die

(Nelson Mandela)

We the African Nation (Thina Sizwe Esinsundu)


Forward to Victory Mandela (Tshotsholoza Mandela)


Freedom is my Hope (Ithemba Endinalona Inkululeko)


Verwoerd's Regtime (Mmuso Wa Verwoerd)


We are the Youth (Thina Silulutha)


National Anthem (Nkosi Sikelel'i Afrika)

(Enoch Sontonga)



PETER FINCH - reading



This album Why I am Ready to Die features a narrated version, by actor Peter Finch, of Nelson Mandela’s famous statement from the dock, during the Rivonia Trial, from April 20, 1964.

The UK based group Christian Action, an anti-apartheid organisation, established the Defence and Aid Fund, in order to assist those individuals and their families on trial. They approached Peter Finch and then Ember records to produce the record with all sales benefiting the aid fund.

The B-side includes "Freedom Songs" sung by ANC Refugees in exile based in Tanganyika (now Tanzania). The songs include a combined version of Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika and Morena Boloka.

The practice of singing one anthem after the other is without a doubt a precursor to the current anthem of South Africa where the first stanza is taken from Nkosi Sikelel iAfrika and the second from Morena Boloka. This recording is the earliest example that I have found of a combined version of the two songs.

More of the freedom songs including those first issued on this Christian Action record were then included on the Folkways LP This Land is Mine issued in the United States in 1965. Folkways, a cornerstone of folk music recording in the United States, also featured international and sometimes less commercial music. The label was originally founded by Moses Asch as Asch records. Many of the LPs included detailed liner-note inserts and the example in that case mentioned an unattributed statement from a letter sent to Moses Asch:

“To M.A. I am sending you by airmail the following reels of tape, which I think you can put together to make a fine LP of South African Freedom Songs. They were all recorded in Tanganyika by young people who are refugees from South Africa. Some had only escaped from there 5 days previously. Some have death sentences hanging over their heads if they go back at this time. For this reason no photographs of them could be taken, and the main address I am giving you is that of their organization, the African National Congress, which helps feed and clothe them while they are in Tanganyika.”

It is my thought that Christian Action may have sent Moses Asch the tapes.

For more information about this record and the anthem, read my full article, The South African National Anthem: a history on record at the Flatint blog.