Wilma CruiseThe Right to Life (2004) | Art.co.za | Art in South Africa
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The Right to Life (2004) | Constitutional Court, Johannesburg

Artist Photo

Two historical events informed The Right to Life.

  • Nelson Mandela’s statement for the dock in the 1963 – 1964 Rivonia trials
  • The first case tried by the constitutional court in which the death penalty was declared to be unconstitutional.

    THE BACKGROUND In 1963 – 1964, Nelson Mandela was facing the almost certain possibility of the death sentence. He had been charged with sabotage. Joel Joffe, defence lawyer said, “It would be difficult for the judge not to sentence them (Mandela and fellow trialists) to death” (as quoted in Anthony Sampson Mandela; The Authorised Biography, p. 192). Mandela’s lawyers were worried. The state’s case seemed to be incontrovertible. Mandela himself admitted guilt. The gallows loomed large. In a four hour statement, Nelson Mandela did not attempt to exonerate himself but instead explained the reasons for his political position. Against the advice of his lawyers who were concerned that his final words were unnecessarily provocative, Mandela ended his statement by saying that if need be he would be prepared to die for his beliefs.

    It is significant that the first case tried by the constitutional court was to declare the death penalty unconstitutional. The interlinking of these two significant moments is celebrated in the artwork – the function of which is to remind people of the fundamental principle of the right to life. (Wilma Cruise 2004).