Cover image for Rivonia's children : three families and the cost of conscience in white South Africa
Rivonia's children : three families and the cost of conscience in white South Africa
Frankel, Glenn.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999.
Physical Description:
381 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 24 cm
General Note:
Map on lining papers.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DT1798 .F73 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Frankel, a staff writer and editor for The Washington Post, tells the story of a handful of white activists, many of them Jewish, who risked their lives to combat apartheid in South Africa during the 1960s. Their underground headquarters was in Rivonia, a Johannesburg suburb, and it was there that their dream of revolution was shattered after a police raid in 1963. Nelson Mandela and nine others were tried for sabotage, leading to the birth of another generation of activists and the miracle of racial reconciliation.

Author Notes

Glenn Frankel has been a staff writer and editor for The Washington Post for twenty years. He is the paper's former bureau chief in South Africa, London, and Jerusalem, where he won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for his coverage of the Middle East. Frankel is currently the editor of The Washington Post Magazine and lives with his family in Arlington, Virginia.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The Rivonia trial in South Africa in 1963 sentenced Nelson Mandela and other antiapartheid leaders to jail for life and shattered the underground resistance movement. Frankel's focus is on the white activists in the movement, nearly all of them Jewish, who gave up their privileged lives and suffered in jail, in hiding, and in exile. Drawing on published memoirs as well as dozens of personal interviews, Frankel (a Pulitzer Prize winner and one-time bureau chief in South Africa for the Washington Post) tells a gripping story of political action and private grief. He honors their idealism and courage even as he recounts the tactical mistakes they made and the terrible cost to their families. Those interested in antiapartheid history will want to read this intimate, fair account of the leaders, such as Ruth First (who was later killed by a letter bomb). Many readers will also be fascinated by the parallels Frankel draws with the U.S. at the time, the relations between Jews and blacks in a black-led movement for social justice. --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

A former South Africa bureau chief of the Washington Post, Frankel writes with depth and style about a group of mostly Jewish, mostly Communist, activists who, in the early 1960s, allied themselves with black activists seeking an end to apartheid. Rivonia was the farm outside Johannesburg where these radicals and their comrades were captured in a 1963 raid. The most compelling figures are Rusty and Hilda Bernstein; Rusty penned the African National Congress's inspirational Freedom Charter. Others in the book include Ruth First, journalist and wife of ANC and Communist Party leader Joe Slovo (the film A World Apart was based on her life), and Bram Fischer, a lawyer and Afrikaner rebel whose life inspired Nadine Gordimer's Burger's Daughter. Frankel's kaleidoscopic style sometimes slows things down, and he could have done more to explore the group's reflections on the new South Africa they helped build. But Frankel constructs a dramatic narrative, combining interviews with his subjects (also some police and a Jewish prosecutor) with existing memoirs, histories and other accounts. The story is propelled by his own cogent assessments, by his deep respect for these activists and by his ruminations on the extraordinarily charged moral choices these people made and what their decisions cost them (in any number of ways, including family relationships, imprisonment and exile). Hilda Bernstein's observation rings powerfully: "The meaning of life is not a fact to be discovered, but a choice you make about the way you live." (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This is a well-researched and nicely written account of the small circle of left-wing radicals who immersed themselves in the South African anti-apartheid movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Frankel, a former South Africa bureau chief for the Washington Post, was also the winner of the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting. He writes with insight and assurance about the events that propelled talented individuals such as Ruth First, Joseph Slovo, Hilda and Rusty Bernstein, Harold and AnnMarie Wolpe, and Nelson Mandela to organize an underground campaign of sabotage against the apartheid regime. In 1963, the South African police raided their secret Communist Party headquarters in the town of Rivonia, which marked a key turning point in the development of anti-apartheid politics. Of this generation of activists, Frankel says "They had taken a risk that others...would not take, had eschewed comfort and thrown away security when others chose to go along and reap the benefits of silence and moral compliance." This is a useful addition to the literature on postwar South Africa and is recommended for larger public and academic libraries.Ă„Kent Worcester, Marymount Manhattan Coll., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Author's Notep. 3
1 The Raidp. 11
2 The Road to Rivoniap. 36
3 Sabotagep. 79
4 The Escapep. 111
5 Notes From Undergroundp. 145
6 On Trialp. 182
7 Witness for the Defensep. 231
8 The Verdictp. 258
9 Sunsetp. 272
Epiloguep. 312
Note on Sourcesp. 339
Chapter Notesp. 349
Acknowledgmentsp. 367
Indexp. 371