By Joel Joffe
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Additional resources for The State vs. Nelson Mandela: The Trial that Changed South Africa
He ruled that there would be a threeweeks’ postponement and adjourned the case. When we heard that de Wet was to sit in this case we had very mixed feelings. He had a strange reputation in South Africa. In legal circles he was not rated highly as a lawyer but was reputed rather to be one of those judges who dispense what they regard as rough justice, on a basis of common sense rather than law. And, as is so often the case, ‘common sense’ proves often to be a mixture of obstinacy and prejudice. In court he had always shown himself extremely self-willed, disliking interjections, interventions and procedural objections.
I thought that Yutar must surely be lying. I couldn’t laugh. As it turned out, the affidavit was no laughing matter. We waited throughout the trial for the affidavit to be produced, but it never came. But as it turned out, I was wrong. Yutar was not lying. There was in fact such an affidavit. We learned about it by sheer coincidence quite outside the course of this case. The coincidence arose in this way. An African from Cape Town who had been detained shortly after the Rivonia arrests, one Looksmart Ngudle, had been found dead in his cell in Pretoria Local jail.
On every issue, the other prisoners gave the greatest weight to Walter’s opinions. It seemed to me that throughout the case, neither Nelson nor anyone else made any decision without first seeking Walter’s opinion. After a short time, we on the defence team found ourselves behaving in the same way. Walter proved to have a judgement of situations and people that, in my experience, was seldom wrong. Govan Mbeki was an old man, his hair greyed. It seemed from the greetings of the others who were meeting for the first time since their arrest, that the grey had increased considerably during his 90-day detention.