A Treason Trial document “rooted in South Africa’s history of resistance and non-racialism”

A few hours left to secure this piece of history in our online auction

Nelson Mandela at the Treason Trial

A rare document signed by Nelson Mandela and other struggle heroes is being auctioned in aid of charity this weekend, and organisers say there are only hours left to bid for it. Find here.

The 60-year old document is an appeal for help with the Treason Trial costs in 1961.  Discovered by chance, the letter is being sold to raise funds for the work of the Canon Collins Trust in South Africa.

Canon John Collins (1905-82) was a radical Anglican priest serving at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.  During a trip to South Africa in the early 1950s he became deeply disturbed by the Apartheid regime’s brutal enforcement of its ideologies, and he later co-founded the powerful Anti Apartheid Movement in the UK.

In 1956, Collins started a Treason Trial Fund to help to pay for the defence of 156 anti-apartheid leaders accused on four counts of treason in what became known as the Treason Trial. By 1961, three of the indictments had been quashed. If prosecution of the fourth indictment had succeeded, it would have opened 60 more to re-indictment and the possible death penalty.

The letter, drafted mere months before the end of the Treason Trial, is an appeal for support for the last leg of the four-year trial, signed by 24 of the leaders, including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Kathrada.

The letter was discovered among old papers in the office of the Canon Collins Trust, an education charity set up shortly before John Collins’ death and now bearing his name.  The Trust’s CEO, Stuart Craig, described it as a chance discovery when the organisation was moving to new premises.  “The Canon Collins Trust is steeped in the history of the Struggle, with our founders supporting the freedom movement for decades before” he explained.

“We were going through some old photos when this letter came to light.  It has the original signatures of Mandela, Kathadra and all, and is clearly a genuine and fascinating slice of history.  We want it to free up some funds to support future leaders in the struggle for social justice.”

This letter is now available to bid on in Canon Collins’ Online Auction (closing on Saturday 15 May).  Other auction items include holidays and sporting memorabilia, such as a signed Springbok jersey and Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea’s signed shirt.  All proceeds from the auction will support scholars developing local solutions to the climate change crisis.

The Signatories

Stanley Lollan, Duma Nokwe, Simon Mkalipi, Ahmed Kathrada, Nelson Mandela, Farid Adams, Helen Joseph, Gert Sibande, Leslie Massina.

Phenas Nene, Moodsie Johannes, Philemon Mathole, Bonakele Milner Ntsangeni, Dr Wilson Conco, J Nkampeni, Benson Thembile, Simon Tiyki, Joseph Morolong, Joseph Molefi, Walter Sisulu, Peter Selepe, Robert Resha, Mohammed “Mosie” Moolla, Lillian Ngoyi.

“When the racist regime arrested and charged with high treason 156 leaders of our democratic movement in 1956, it hoped that it would destroy that movement and create a situation in which it would expand and entrench the apartheid system without opposition. John Collins took the side of those on trial… He came to our aid not in pity but in solidarity.”

Oliver Tambo