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MANDELA, Nelson.

Signed ANC and Robben Island documents.

South Africa: 1963-1993 Stock Code: 141520
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Mandela signs mementos of the struggle for an old ANC comrade

Five pieces of documentation, each signed and dated by Nelson Mandela at the request of his old African National Congress comrade Natvaral 'Natoo' Babenia (1924-1999). Babenia was recruited as a saboteur in the early days of the ANC's armed wing, uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) - The Spear of the Nation - co-founded by Mandela in 1961; and the two were fellow convicts at the infamous prison on Robben Island.

Durban-born Babenia's career encompassed the national liberation struggles of both India and South Africa. Faced by economic hardship his family had returned to India in 1936 where Babenia became involved in the nationalist cause, playing an active role in the Indian Congress movement in Baroda, where he was imprisoned on several occasions. On his return to Durban in 1949 he joined the National Indian Congress as a district organiser, also working as a journalist with the influential, and later proscribed, newspaper Indian Opinion. In 1962 he was recruited to MK by Ronnie Kasrils, a member of the founding cadre, and was involved in a number of successful operations before he was arrested, along with many other activists, on the testimony of an informer. Failing in his attempt to be repatriated to India, he was sentenced to 16 years on Robben Island.

The pieces here were all signed on 23 April 1993, on the occasion of Mandela being awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Law by the University of Natal, when the two veterans met in the waiting lounge before the ceremony. The event took place less than two weeks after the cold-blooded assassination of Chris Hani, MK chief of staff, and a supporter of Mandela's suspension of the armed struggle, to which Mandela inevitably referred to in his address: "The killers were testing the capacity of the overwhelming majority of our people to remain true in word and deed to the vision of a society of racial harmony... we commend them for successfully seeing through these evil intentions, and for the manner in which the conducted themselves during the difficult period of mourning". The group comprises two ANC leaflets, together with a pair of educational certificates awarded to Babenia on Robben Island. It perhaps challenges the retrospective "beatification" of Mandela, that at a time when he was striving for a peaceful transition to majority rule, he was willing to put his name, literally, to documents of the violent past. But in doing so he was resisting the temptation to rewrite his own personal history, and the history of his country, recognising the role that armed resistance had played in reaching that pivotal moment.

The ANC propaganda pieces comprise of an original handbill "Listen, White Man", docketed in ink at top: "Copy of Circular placed under front doors of homes in Lamontville on 6/5/63". Issued in the aftermath of murders in the Transkei, the flyer insists that political violence is the inevitable result of apartheid, and that violence will increase until the system ends. Lamontville is Durban's oldest black township, founded in 1934 in an attempt to co-opt the African middle class. Toned, hole-punched at left margin, light peripheral chipping and nicking; the text still clear and legible: together with a photostat copy of a bifold leaflet written by Paul Trewhela, editor of the MK journal, Freedom Fighter in 1963 at the time of the break between the ANC and Potlako Leballo's Pan Africanist Congress. It is reproduced on two sheets, showing inside and out, both docketed as if perhaps for use as exhibits in evidence. Cover "title" "Umkhonto we Sizwe The A.N.C Spearheads Revolution. Leballo? No! Amandla Ngawethu Power to the People". Both sheets faded almost to illegibility, and with marginal discolouration and aligning staple holes in the top left corner; the first docketed "EXH 'BE'" in ink, the second "BE" in ink with a couple of pencil crayon crosses.

These ANC items are accompanied by two documents made by and for the prisoners on Robben Island. Mandela had called for "the atmosphere of a university to prevail here on the island" (Hutton, Robben Island: Symbol of Resistance, p. 66), and these two hand-printed certificates, awarded to Babenia by educational societies established by the inmates, are reflective of his success in achieving that end. The first was presented by the Robben Island Academy of Fine Arts for Babenia's artwork of the River Seine, ranked second in their exhibition on 4 March 1973. (Illustrated in Hutton). The second is for the Robben Island Institute of Education Council Literary Award first prize for "the most outstanding Short Story at the Open Level of the 1974 literary competition", 24 March 1974. Both certificates are signed as chairman of the Education Committee by Sedick Isaacs, who was imprisoned as a Category D prisoner for 12 years in 1964 for sabotage, other signatories include two PAC prisoners Vusi Nkumane, and Josiah Makofane. Both items slightly creased, the first with a little damping at the bottom edge, some consequent crumpling and a few minor edge-splits.

An unusual and highly desirable group of signed documents effectively evoking Mandela's emblematic association with the ANC's struggle: the underlying, perhaps inevitable, violence, the enduring comradeship under hardship, and the idealistic striving for a lasting, meaningful improvement for the nation.

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Five documents: two certificates, a handbill and a contemporary photostat of a four-page leaflet on two sheets. Housed in a black quarter morocco solander box by the Chelsea Bindery.


All with traces of adhesive residue verso where previously mounted in an album, other minor faults noted below with full descriptions.


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