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Mandela’s Prosecutor


[clock] 29-MINUTE READ ISSUE:  Fall 2013
Percy Yutar led the case against the anti-apartheid revolutionary. What did victory cost him?

Percy Yutar in his chambers. Courtesy of David Yutar.

“The most important thing of course in his childhood was the loss of his fingers when he was thirteen.”

My friend David is telling me about his father, Percy Yutar. We’re sitting in a sunny apartment in the neighborhood of Tamboerskloof, Cape Town. In the distance, through the window, a bright bank of clouds courses over Table Mountain. 

Percy was the prosecutor who secured convictions against Nelson Mandela and seven others fifty years ago in what was called the Rivonia Trial—​a pivotal moment in South African history—​Mandela going off to his twenty-​seven years in prison for fighting against the system of apartheid.

David is uncomfortable, I can tell. Throughout the conversations about his father we would have over the course of the next few weeks, I could sense his inner conflict as he tried to balance loyalty with a more critical viewpoint. 

The reason I know David, and the reason I wanted to find out about his father, is because our family histories intertwine. I was born in South Africa and so were my parents. My mom and dad left for political reasons in 1986. Apartheid was still in place, and they didn’t want to continue to benefit, as they and their friends had, from the cheap labor wrung out by such a system. 

My grandparents lived in relative wealth in a suburb of Johannesburg. They had bridge games and servants and gin and tonics by the pool, the whole postcolonial deal. It doesn’t account for the complexities of being human to judge them for not, at any point, apprising themselves of the injustice around them and trying to do something about it. There are many instances of the grace and kindness they exhibited in difficult lives that included, among other things, the loss of a son to a car accident. Yet there were people like them who, though also steeped in their own circumstances, did break away and work against apartheid.

My mom tells a story: We’re hung up at the airport, on our way to the US. The grind of moving an entire young family across an ocean has been set in motion but some bureaucratic detail is throwing the whole thing into question. She calls my grandmother in tears—​can she think of anything? And my grandmother calls the one person she knows who might be able to help. Many years later I found out it was Percy Yutar, a man who had come to be seen as one of the principal villains of the apartheid era. 


Who was this man, this functionary of the state, who stood across the court from one of the great heroes of our time? What happened to men like him after the ground shifted and the system they worked for came to light in all of its corruption? After all those years went by, did he have regrets?

According to David, his father’s childhood accident had major reverberations. Percy was playing around in his father’s butcher shop, doing a sort of pirouette, when his fingers slipped into the mincing machine. “Apart from the actual physical pain, there was the psychological trauma. That was quite a seminal point in his life, and I think it changed many things because he was very self-​conscious about that hand.” 

One of eight children, Percy was born to Jewish Lithuanian immigrants in Cape Town in 1911. They didn’t have a lot of money; his main toy was the tire from a car. By all accounts, Percy was a different person before the incident, lazy and unmotivated; afterward, a potent mix of ego and insecurity seeded the dogged ambition that would course through the rest of his life. 

But there was another thread, too, something that would exist uneasily alongside the drive that would take him to the highest offices of South Africa: his religion. 

“He wasn’t the kind of Jew who just paid lip service,” said David. “He really was religious. My abiding recollection of my father is every morning saying his prayers.” In the early hours David would watch his father davening, or praying while swaying back and forth. “Every morning he did that.” 

Percy was the president of Johannesburg’s largest Orthodox synagogue, the United Hebrew Congregation, for more than a decade. And according to Glenn Frankel’s Rivonia’s Children, “Even as a junior clerk in the Jew-​hating Afrikaner bureaucracy, he proudly wore a signet ring in the shape of the Star of David.” 

He attended the University of Cape Town on scholarship, and in 1937 received his doctorate in law. But despite his top-​shelf education, anti-​Semitism dictated that he would work, for five years, in a lowly position at the post office, tracking down people who owed money. 

It was this anti-​Semitism he sought to overcome, to prove to everyone that a Jew could ascend to the highest offices, and, later, to prove that he could do the government’s bidding just as well as any steadfast Afrikaner.

“I don’t like to use the word sycophant,” said David, “it’s a strong word to use, but there were elements of sycophantism. I have to say that. I think what he was trying to prove was that not all Jews are bad communists, there are Jews who are loyal to the regime, to the system, to the status quo.” 

Percy would attain his goal. He would become the first Jewish deputy attorney general in South Africa—​first of the Orange Free State, then of the highly populated Transvaal, which included the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria. “He used to say, ‘Can you believe it?’ ” said David. “ ‘That they would appoint a Jewish attorney general in this very conservative Afrikaans province. Isn’t it remarkable?’ ” 

But this was all much later, after when, as deputy attorney general, he was presented with a case in which a raid on a farmhouse in a quiet suburb called Rivonia yielded a bumper crop of evidence against a group of people who had been agitating for a while, and now were considering a violent overthrow of the government. One of them was Nelson Mandela. 


In South Africa in 1963, the grip of apartheid was ever tightening under the Afrikaner-​dominated National Party that had come to power in 1948. Black Africans, or “Bantu,” which was the blanket term for people of color, were told where to live as dictated by the Group Areas Act. They were prevented from receiving any education beyond what was needed to be a domestic servant as decreed by the Bantu Education Act. “Pass” laws required them to produce a book, or “dompas,” whenever they were outside of their designated areas, and only whites could vote. 

It was “a separation that exceeded even the pernicious Jim Crow laws of the American South in scope and force,” says Kenneth Broun in his book Saving Nelson Mandela. The Sharpeville Massacre of 1960, in which sixty-​nine people were shot to death while protesting the pass laws, was still fresh in people’s minds, and black militancy was increasing along with white fear.

Picture a land of silty, ramshackle, corrugated townships spread out over the Lowveld, from where domestic and office workers would leave and get shunted back to at the end of the day, all mere miles from the peaceful and elegant streets that still compose the suburbs of white-​inhabited Johannesburg: Cape Dutch-​style houses, manicured lawns, and midday birdsong. 

And now picture one such house in a suburb called Rivonia. Although it is built up today with busy roads and glinting office buildings, in the sixties Rivonia was a fairly rural area, and on it was, and still is, a twenty-​eight-​acre farm called Liliesleaf. It was owned by an architect named Arthur Goldreich. He had the usual retinue of servants and outward signs of wealth, but the neighbors had noticed some strange goings on. In Saving Nelson Mandela, a neighbor comments, “His Bantu visitors are very well dressed. My young son goes over there sometimes to play with the Goldreich children, and he says they often have mixed parties in the lounge—​Europeans and Bantu hobnobbing and drinking together.” 

In fact, Goldreich was a member of the banned South African Communist Party, which had purchased the house through a dummy corporation to serve as a meeting place for an underground organization called Umkhonto we Sizwe (trans: “Spear of the Nation”) or MK, culled from members of the Communist Party and the African National Congress and formed to discuss military action against the government. For a period of time, Nelson Mandela posed as a gardener working under the name David Motsamayi.

We’ll never know how things would have played out had the members not decided to have one more meeting there on July 11, 1963. They were already apprehensive that their activities were getting too visible and had decided to move their operations elsewhere. The gathering was supposed to have been the last one at that site. “You know the old adage,” Denis Goldberg, who was apprehended that day, said to me later, “you go to the well once too often and the pitcher gets broken.”

The police, who arrived undercover in a dry-​cleaning truck, found them in the middle of a meeting, all of their materials out on the table. Walter Sisulu, Denis Goldberg, Govan Mbeki (father of future South African president Thabo Mbeki), Ahmed Mohamed Kathrada, Lionel “Rusty” Bernstein, Raymond Mhlaba, James Kantor, Elias Motsoaledi, and Andrew Mlangeni were apprehended at the site, as were Goldreich and Harold Wolpe, though they later escaped. Mandela, who’d left in 1962 and was serving a prison sentence elsewhere, was also indicted by the evidence. 

These were the names that filled the docket given to Percy Yutar. Ambitious as he was, he must have known that the case would bring him national recognition. Here was a group that wanted to upend the whole white ruling caste he was ascending. Here was a chance to showcase his legal prowess and affinity to the government. The charge he formulated: sabotage. 

“Ideally, I would have liked him to have refused to take the trial,” said David, “particularly as a Jew. Ideally. In an ideal world he would have. But it wasn’t.”


“He was a sneaky, snide, arrogant, I suppose I have to call him a person,” said Denis Goldberg when I met him at his house in Hout Bay, Cape Town. A civil engineer by training, and a member of the Communist Party from a young age, Goldberg was on the logistics committee of MK. After the Rivonia Trial, he spent twenty-​two years in prison. 

A large man, Goldberg has a removed kind of intelligence, as if looking at you from a great height. I had to ring the bell a few times, and he came to the door in the befuddled torpor of someone who’d just woken from a nap. We started talking as he rummaged around in his cabinets for a water glass. 

“He called me the greatest liar of all,” Goldberg told me after we sat down, referring to the special vehemence Yutar showed him due to their shared religion. Later he told a story of a conversation he had with the security police when detained under the 90-​Day Act (in which prisoners could be held, without charge, for successive periods of ninety days): “ ‘We have so much on you,’ ” the interrogator tells me. “ ‘You’re going to die. And the person that’s going to hang you is one of your own people.’ ”

“What do you mean?”

“ ‘Doctor Percy Yutar is going to hang you.’ ” 

“Who’s Percy Yutar?”

“ ‘He’s your prosecutor and he’s a Jew like you and he’s going to hang you.’ That was the attitude of the security police. He’s one of us, you’re the enemy. He’s the good Jew. He’s our Jew.”

At a certain point in our conversation, when we were talking about the trial, Goldberg struck a rare sympathetic note. “I have to say that, yes, it was clear that there was prejudice against Percy Yutar.” He explained that the judge seemed to emanate personal dislike for the man. “He would put him down by not referring to him as Doctor Yutar, or he would call him Mister Yutar, or sometimes when he was being utterly absurd he would call him Doctor Yutar to highlight the stupidity of what a doctor should and shouldn’t know.” 

But Goldberg told a number of stories that corroborated other accounts I’d read about Percy and his courtroom manner. That there was a strange, misplaced bombast in his delivery, and a flamboyance that would belie any assumption of dispassionate objectivity. “Yutar in court used his attitudes of racial superiority to try to humiliate,” he said. 

An example of Yutar’s florid style: In his closing address he theorized about Goldberg’s plans. “Having created the Frankenstein monster and put it into action, [he] would have gone abroad to join the band of brothers; this included the great and glorious guerilla, Goldreich, the heroic Harmel and Hodgson, Slovo the soldier and the wise Wolpe.”

So preposterous to Yutar were the political positions of the accused that, in a sarcastic exercise, he named what he called a “shadow cabinet for the provisional revolutionary government.” He nominated Goldberg Minister of Health; Kathrada was to be Minister of Indian Affairs; Sisulu would be Minister of the Interior, and Mandela Minister of Defense. “He was making fun of each of us,” says Goldberg. 

In a different incident, Vernon Berrange, an advocate for the defense, called Percy petty: “You’re such a little man,” he’d said. According to Goldberg, Yutar refused to speak to the defense team afterward. “Well, you can’t run a trial if the prosecution and the defense aren’t coordinating.” So, George Bizos, another attorney on the defense team, went to smooth things over and told Percy that by “little” Berrange hadn’t meant he was of small stature, just that he was small-​minded. 

“Actually George doubled the insult,” said Goldberg. “But Percy wasn’t listening, he just wanted to know there was an approach, and thereafter things went smoothly. But that’s the absurdity of this pumped up little dangerous man who was not liked in his profession.” 

The Rivonia Trial, presided over by Judge Quartus de Wet, lasted until June 1964, during which time it commanded world attention. The New York Times and Washington Post ran stories, as did British newspapers such as the Times and Guardian. Yutar, appealing to anti-​Red hysteria, would seek to show the ANC and the anti-​apartheid movement in general as being incited by the Communist Party. Facing a mountain of incriminating evidence, and the reluctance of the accused to apologize for or deny their intentions, the defense’s strategy was to put the state on trial. It all culminated in Mandela’s famous speech on the witness stand, in which he said: 

I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for, and to see realized. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die. 

In the end, eight of the defendants were given sentences of life imprisonment. It was a great relief to many who thought they were going to hang.


Over the course of a few weeks in Cape Town, David Yutar gave me a number of materials relating to his father. There were newspaper clippings Percy had cut out and saved, mostly laudatory articles from Afrikaans newspapers from the time of the trial. There was a hand-​drawn card a client had made for Percy in thanks for legal work. The most illuminating thing was a twenty-​three-​page document, the preface to Percy’s unfinished memoirs. It was written sometime in the midnineties and has the feel of someone trying to set things straight.

“There are three important matters which are not generally known and which I feel I must now place on record,” begins one section. The first has to do with his decision to charge the accused with sabotage instead of treason. At the time in South Africa, the conviction of treason was almost certainly followed by a sentence of death. With sabotage, however, the death penalty was on the table, but wasn’t inevitable. Yutar admits his decision had something to do with the previous treason trial in South Africa, which had dragged on for years and made the state look incompetent, and says that if he’d gone with treason, “It might have appeared that the State was now going to have a second bite at the cherry.” He also says, in a statement that appears to contain some sympathy for the accused, “I was dealing with organisations which had been banned and therefore were unable to propagate their views.” He goes on to claim, “Contrary to what others have maintained I verily believe that this decision of mine saved the lives of the accused.” 

He also talks about how in 1983, after the group had been in jail for almost twenty years, he approached a handful of cabinet members about having them released. This came to nothing, and he says indignantly, “And yet many years thereafter others, including one of the aforementioned four Cabinet Ministers I had spoken to, has claimed credit for taking the initiative for the release of the Rivonia trialists!”

The third point concerns how he knew Mandela before the trial, when they were both practicing law in Johannesburg. Percy was senior public prosecutor, and he claims Mandela came to him about a matter regarding two children who had been arrested for shoplifting. He quotes himself as saying: “Mr. Mandela, it makes no difference who you are, what you are and what the colour of your skin is, but isn’t it sad how parents suffer as a result of the misdeeds of their children. But thank God, you’ve come to someone whose policy it is not to make criminals out of children.” 

Later he describes his feelings at the change of government to black majority rule: “Indeed, I derive a great measure of comfort and happiness in now seeing their happy and smiling faces, the look of freedom in their eyes and their obvious joy of being able to participate in the government of the country on a fully equal basis with their white counterparts.” 

The document seems to be a straining attempt to reposition himself in history, but I wondered if there could be any truth to the first claim. In his last recorded interview, conducted for a television documentary, he reiterates: “If I had merely even asked for the death penalty, the judge would have granted… . They would have been named martyrs and that would have led to a hellish revolution, and a bloody civil war. And I have not the slightest doubt that I acted correctly, and saved this country.”


“His claim that he saved their lives is a damn lie,” said George Bizos, one of the advocates in the trial, who remains a good friend of Mandela’s. We were sitting on a pretty, cool stoop, overhung with leaves at his house in Johannesburg. He drifted in and out of memories. A little boy, the son of a friend, rooted around in the garden next to us. 

Treason charges were more difficult to prove, he said, and that’s why Yutar went with sabotage. Treason required a detailed preliminary hearing and two witnesses to corroborate each allegation. With sabotage, only one witness was needed, and there were no preliminary hearings that might require the state to divulge its evidence. “Yutar was smart enough—​he didn’t want the sort of arguments that succeed before the courts over this mammoth trial, and this is why he did it.”

Yutar saved many of the newspaper articles about himself. Here, he underlines and annotates one such publication. Courtesy of David Yutar.He referenced a particularly nasty part of the trial: Yutar’s cross-​examination of Cry, the Beloved Country author Alan Paton who was there to speak in mitigation of sentence. Paton spoke about the courage and determination of the defendants and their desire to lead better lives. He outlined his opposition to violence but said he could understand why they had come to feel they had no other option. 

It wasn’t common practice to cross-​examine witnesses there in mitigation, but Yutar said he wanted to “unmask” Paton and prove he had come to issue propaganda. What followed was a hostile series of questions in which Yutar accused Paton of being a Communist and working against his country. “He treated him as if he was a traitor to even consider to consent to give evidence in mitigation,” said Bizos. “He insulted him over and over again… . Is that consistent with a claim later that he saved their lives?” 

Bizos also tells a story about a time much later, after the trial, when they worked in buildings across from each other. Percy was deputy attorney general of the Witwatersrand at the time, and Bizos needed a favor from him. He had friends who were trying to adopt a child and required a certificate from the chief prosecutor. “George, welcome!” Bizos said, affecting a high-​pitched voice to imitate Yutar, who greeted him with surprising enthusiasm in his office. “How are you? I’m so honored to have you as my guest, sit down.”

“I told him what my mission was,” said Bizos, and then something strange happened. “He started crying.” Yutar related how he and his wife had waited for twelve years to conceive and so understood where Bizos’s friends were coming from. He immediately worked up the necessary certificate. 

“If I am unkind I would say he was thirsty for friendship,” said Bizos, when I asked him what he made of the interaction. “But he had this loyalty to the regime.” 


There’s a certain twitchy evasiveness you get in some white South Africans when it comes to talking about apartheid. It’s as if they’ve already done all of their thinking about it and don’t want to dig it all up again and are furthermore slightly annoyed to encounter some outsider who’s bringing it all up as if it’s 1990 and Nelson Mandela has just been released.

It was a variation of this attitude I encountered in Dawn Sprighton, Percy’s secretary of two decades. It was as if by the sheer blinding force of her good nature and grinding manners we could avoid any of the unpleasant shadings inherent in a conversation about his life.

I met her on a hot afternoon in the Johannesburg suburb of Sandton, in an orange-​colored housing complex typical of the area in that it was surrounded by high walls, a security system, and guards. It became clear pretty soon upon sitting down with Sprighton that there wasn’t going to be any sifting or searching when it came to questions about Yutar. She spoke of him with unalloyed admiration. 

She became his secretary when he first joined the bar in 1979, fifteen years after the end of the trial, and worked for him for more than twenty years. They’d developed a frothy friendship, and she describes being chased around the table by him, little pranks he used to play that drew on her inexperience with the Afrikaans language, and also his generosity—​how for her birthday he rented out a room at a tony hotel where she had lunch with her friends, and she’d only been there a year. 

She spoke with great fondness about his obsessive concern for the way his books were lined up on the shelf and about how in the mornings he would measure them with a ruler. “Okay what book is crooked?” she would ask him when he seemed distracted while she took dictation. “ ‘I’m sorry, my dear,’ ” she imitated, giving him a paternal and bemused affect, “ ‘but the book behind you.’ ”

“He had a wonderful sense of humor, he really did. And he was just a generally wonderful person, and very family oriented, extremely family oriented.” 

Minute gearshifts in her manner told me that she wasn’t comfortable discussing the politics of the time or how Yutar factored into them. Yet she was adamant when I brought up the whole sabotage-​versus-​treason thing that yes, he did, in fact, save the accuseds’ lives and that was his intention the whole time, even though she met him fifteen years after the trial was completed, when the ground had shifted and Yutar had had plenty of time to impose that narrative to anyone who might ask. 

Toward the end I asked Sprighton if she thought Percy’s experience with anti-​Semitism should have made him more empathetic to the plight of black South Africans. She responded with a kind of short-​circuited word salad that made it clear she wasn’t prepared to interface with any kind of troubling questions about her former boss: “No, I don’t think so. I don’t think that had anything to do with it and apartheid. He always treated the blacks with respect, put it that way. His parents used to own a hotel, in the Cape, that’s where he sort of grew up …”

I reiterated the question, not sure she’d understood. 

“Yes, that could be to a certain extent, I don’t know because, obviously his parents or his grandparents probably, because I think, Percy came from Russia, his forefathers came from Russia …”

Our meeting ended soon after that, when her cousin appeared and we crowded around as she flipped through a scrapbook of safari animals, all of us relieved to be talking about something as simple as giraffes, if we had seen one in the wild yet, and how they were definitely a mutual source of delight. 


“You know, it’s very easy for others to criticize, and I’m trying to be objective and civil, I really am. And Percy wasn’t an easy man. He wasn’t, he really wasn’t. But also in fairness to the poor man, I think people must see it in its true context.” 

Gary Mazaham met me at a modern office park not far from where I met Sprighton. He opened a heavy glass door to greet me and apologized profusely for his appearance even though he was wearing immaculate tennis whites. We sat down at a glossy conference table. 

He’d met Percy roughly the same time Sprighton had. I could tell that through working together, Mazaham had really come to respect something in him. He spoke of the man’s sincerity and thoroughness, how he threw himself into every case and made himself available to you if you were working with him. As for his courtroom style, it wasn’t specific to Rivonia, that was just the way he was. “Percy did have that mannerism,” he said. “It was an unfortunate way with him.”

And yet he really wanted to emphasize the chilly, right-​wing domain the lawyer would have entered, and what he would have had to prove as a Jew. “Having broken into that sphere he would have been more determined than ever. And especially being the determined kind of person he was, to prove that he would match in every respect, if not exceed the Afrikaans expectation.” 

But what about the context? Shouldn’t Percy, especially because of his experience with discrimination, have seen the environment the accused were reacting to and refused to take the case? 

“Can you imagine the outcry from the other side?” he said. “If these are known terrorists … if we decide, well, we’re going to withdraw charges. What does one do with them then? Put them into exile? And you’ve got this huge threat looming, with an ANC growing stronger all the time. With an Afrikaner nation that is growing paranoid. This is the problem that he faced. The tragedy is that had we only accommodated them from an earlier stage before they got to this point, where bombs were being planted, and spoken to them, and acknowledged their rights. But they weren’t prepared to. That’s the tragedy. But how do you set them free? I guarantee you, he would have been lynched. By the right wing. He would have been lynched.”


Percy Yutar died insolvent, living with his wife in a run-​down rented flat, unable to pay his debts. David remembers sitting on the veranda of their old home—​“It was a beautiful house”—​before the bank repossessed it, and asking his father how he could have been so remiss. “Have you taken out any policies, catered for mom, and so on?” He asked. His father replied that he wasn’t a financier. “There were no policies when he died.” David had to go to a Jewish organization to ask for financial help. “It was a miserable way of ending everything.”

But where had all the money gone? 

“That’s a very good question. I don’t know. He was meticulous, as you say. His excuse would have been, I’m not good with money. Well, clearly, he wasn’t.”

Nelson Mandela talks with Percy Yutar. Pretoria, South Africa. November 1, 1995. (Louise Gubb / Corbis Saba)

They’d been comfortable. They’d wanted for nothing. They had two vacations a year and sometimes went on cruises, they drove nice cars, the house was filled with artwork and good antiques. They had three servants. “I think they simply lived beyond their means.”

“There’s another aspect to this,” he said. When his father was attorney general, the family had been incredibly well connected. “He had an inordinate amount of power and I often don’t understand that. He was just attorney general, he wasn’t a minister of justice, but he was very, very influential. He could pick up a phone and get any functionary anywhere to do anything. It astounded me, and I think it was largely due to the publicity he enjoyed.” 

In that vein, Percy had done favors for many people. “And I was struck by the end, of course, when he was in trouble, it was a great irony for me, that no one was there. No one was there.” 

I asked David if his father had ever expressed any regrets. “I think the most notable thing is that he never did.” 

Did he think his father had any, even if he didn’t express them?

“Not so much regret, but embarrassment, at his role,” he said. “I think there was some sense of embarrassment, although he would have denied that vehemently.” 

“He genuinely came to believe that the role he played was beyond reproach, and even—​I can’t think of the right word—​but even benevolent in a sense. Heroic is too strong a word. In the sense that he did actually save Mandela from the gallows.” 


We visited Robben Island on a clear and pretty morning in late January. There’s a sun-​bleached, deserted, windswept feel to the whole place. Large buses take you around the grounds and have to stop now and then to let a turtle cross the road.

You can see the cell where Mandela spent eighteen years of his sentence. It contains a bucket, a floor mat for sleeping, and a desk. You can see the courtyard where prisoners hammered stones into gravel day in and day out. The prison guide had been interned there for a number of years. He said that before he was sentenced he’d been strapped to a chair and given electric shocks. “I told them everything.” A detail I can’t get out of my head: Black prisoners had to wear shorts instead of pants—​it was to infantilize them, so they would forever be just “boys” in the eyes of their guards. 

David told me once, and my parents have said it, too: It’s extraordinary, but you can’t find anyone now who was pro-​government during the apartheid era. It wasn’t that long ago that it was dissolved, and the system would have required the complicity if not the active support of a great many people. But they’ve all disappeared. It seems that everyone has rewritten their own histories. 

Did Percy Yutar have the fates of the accused in mind, as he later claimed, when he formulated the charge of sabotage? Or did he pick the path of least resistance to a splashy trial that would showcase him as defender of the state? It seems the only thing that can be said definitively is that there’s no evidence that he did anything, at any time, big or small, along the way, to resist the status quo, and in fact seemed to relish in the authority vested in him as prosecutor. 

“I think he was blinded by his ambition,” said David, “by his emotionalism, by his insecurity, by his history. He was blinded to the human factors behind the Rivonia Trial.”

We all know what happened. Mandela was released and elected to president, inheriting the government and opting for truth and reconciliation rather than revenge. In that vein, he had lunch with Percy Yutar in 1995. You can only imagine what they talked about. “I tried to grill him and he was singularly unhelpful,” David said. “My father was not very forthcoming on that.” In footage of the press conference for the lunch, Mandela towers over his former prosecutor. He seems determined to make Percy—​now a very old man, with wispy gray hair and a polka-​dot tie—​feel comfortable. He lightly puts his arm around him. He listens gravely as Percy makes a short speech. At one point he gently ribs him, “I thought he was taller than this.” “His part was a small one,” he says at another point, in response to a reporter’s question. Yutar looks, above all, grateful. 

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