Series NMAP 2010/9 - Judge Thumba Pillay Collection

NMF_Smuggled_Letter_001.tif NMF_Smuggled_Letter_002.tif NMF_Smuggled_Letter_003.tif NMF_Smuggled_Letter_004.tif NMF_Smuggled_Letter_005.tif NMF_Smuggled_Letter_006.tif NMF_Smuggled_Letter_007.tif NMF_Smuggled_Letter_008.tif NMF_Smuggled_Letter_009.tif NMF_Smuggled_Letter_010.tif NMF_Smuggled_Letter_011.tif NMF_Smuggled_Letter_012.tif NMF_Smuggled_Letter_013.tif NMF_Smuggled_Letter_014.tif
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Identity area

Reference code

ZA COM NMAP 2010/9


Judge Thumba Pillay Collection


  • 1959-01-01 - 1979-12-31 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

7 files contained in 2 archival boxes

Context area

Name of creator

(18 July 1918-5 December 2013)

Biographical history

Name of creator

Biographical history

Name of creator

(08 August 1929 - 28 March 2017)

Biographical history

Anti-apartheid activist, politician, political prisoner and MP. Leading member of the ANC and of the SACP. Founding member of the Transvaal Indian Volunteer Corps and its successor, the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress. Imprisoned for one month in 1946 for his participation in the SAIC’s Passive Resistance Campaign against the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act. Convicted for his participation in the 1952 Defiance Campaign. Banned in 1954. Co-organiser of the Congress of the People and a member of the Congress Alliance General Purpose Committee. Detained during the 1960 State of Emergency. One of the last twenty-eight accused in the Treason Trial acquitted in 1961. Placed under house arrest in 1962. Arrested at Liliesleaf Farm in July 1963 and charged with sabotage in the Rivonia Trial. Imprisoned on Robben Island, 1964–82, then Pollsmoor Prison until his release on 15 October 1989. MP from 1994, after South Africa’s first democratic elections, and served as political adviser to President Mandela.

Archival history

Judge Thumba Pillay has been politically active since the 1950s and has practiced as an attorney since 1962. He was contacted by Mac Maharaj in 1976/7 who handed him 2 handwritten manuscripts of letters addressed to his firm by Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada. Judge Thumba Pillay donated the two letters to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in 2009 followed by a second donation in 2010 with records related to the subsequent court cases of Mandela vs Minister of Prisons. A memo from Judge Thumba Pillay detailing the events is stored with the accession form.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Judge Thumba Pillay

Content and structure area

Scope and content

This series consists of two letters smuggled out of Robben Island in 1977. Mac Maharaj gave them to Judge Thumba Pillay of legal firm of Pillay Seedat & Co. The letters are written by Nelson Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada, both of them wishing to appoint the firm to act on their behalf in legal proceedings against the Department of Prisons. Since the authorities refused contact with their attorneys, they had to use this "illegal" method to seek legal representation. The collection includes an envelope that Judge Pillay had posted addressed to his law firm. He did this in the event that the Security Police questioned him about how he received the letters, he would be able to prove that they were posted anonymously to him.
A second donation of Judge Thumba Pillay contains correspondence and documents (mainly copies) pertaining to the case of Mandela vs Minister of Prisons.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Access by permission of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory

Conditions governing reproduction

Copyright held by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

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Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion


  • English



Accession area

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