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How Jaja Wachuku, A Prominent Nigerian Politician, Saved Nelson Mandela From Death Penalty in 1964

Jaja Wachuku
Jaja Wachuku

Jaja Wachuku is a name that can never be forgotten in the annals of Nigerian history and the country’s struggle for independence. Jaja Wachuku, during his lifetime, had a good reputation on both national and international levels for his selfless acts and strives for equity.

In 1964, Jaja Wachuku saved South Africa’s Nelson Mandela from death penalty during the Rivonia Trial which took place in South Africa between 9th of October, 1963 and 12th of June, 1964. OldNaija bring you more information about the little known involvement of Jaja Wachuku in saving Mandela’s life.

South African authorities search Lillieleaf farm in Rivonia on July 11, 1963
South African authorities search Lillieleaf farm in Rivonia on July 11, 1963 / © Famous Trials

Nelson Mandela and twelve other South African political leaders who topped the list of people wanted by the South African police in 1961 went into hiding, but were found and arrested in 1963 on Liliesleaf Farm, Rivonia, the suburb of Johannesburg. As at that time, Mandela had been labeled a terrorist by the U.S. government, and along with other twelve politicians, he was convicted for sabotage. He pleaded guilty to sabotaging the government but denied other charges.

While in Prison, Nelson Mandela became more radical and was feared more by the government. During his trial in Rivonia, he rendered a three-hour speech in which he said “I am prepared to die” and was found guilty then sentenced to death in 1964. As at this time, Jaja Wachukwu (the first Speaker of the house of representatives in Nigeria) was the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Nigeria and had already served as the first Ambassador and Paramount Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations.

Jaja Wachuku, Kennedy F. Kennedy and Martin L. King
Jaja Wachuku, Kennedy F. Kennedy and Martin L. King

Jaja wachuku, as aforementioned, had a good reputation in his field of work and thus had a good relationship with top officials in the United Nations and the president of the United States. Jaja Wachuku who believed in Nelson Mandela and his cause saw his death sentence as a display of injustice and used his influence and connections to intervene in Mandela and the other twelve politicians’ death sentence.

Photos of Rivonia trial
Crowd gathers outside Palace of Justice as the Rivonia trial opens

After Jaja Wachuku’s intervention, the death sentence of Nelson Mandela and other twelve South African Politicians was changed to life imprisonment. However, Mandela spent only 27 years and eight months of the life sentence as he was released on the 11th of February, 1990 by President F. W. de Klerk.

Jaja Wachuku and wife, Rhoda Idu Oona Onumonu
Jaja Wachuku and wife, Rhoda Idu Oona Onumonu

Jaja Anucha Wachuku, a Royal Prince of Ngwa land in the Igbo part of Eastern Nigeria, was born on the 1st of January, 1918. He was a Pan-Africanist, politician, diplomat and lawyer. He was the first Speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives, as well as first Nigerian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations. He was also the first Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs. Jaja Wachuku died on the 7th of November, 1996.

Thanks for reading, oldnaija.com

References:
  • Broun, Kenneth S. (2012). Saving Nelson Mandela: The Rivonia Trial and the Fate of South Africa. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-991312-1
  • Mandela, Nelson (1979). I am prepared to die. International Defence & Aid Fund for Southern Africa.
  • Wachuku Attacks Big Powers, South Africa”, Jet, 26 October 1961

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Cite this article as: Teslim Omipidan. (September 28, 2018). How Jaja Wachuku, A Prominent Nigerian Politician, Saved Nelson Mandela From Death Penalty in 1964. OldNaija. Retrieved from https://oldnaija.com/2018/09/28/how-jaja-wachuku-a-prominent-nigerian-politician-saved-nelson-mandela-from-death-penalty-in-1964/

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