Sarah Slator

Thesis title: Politics in the Courtroom: International Communism, the Global Anti-Apartheid Movement and the Rivonia Trial in South Africa 1963–64

Start year: 2015


Supervisor(s): Dr James Cooper, Dr Tom Crook, Professor Peter Edge

Research topic

The primary aim of my work is to undertake an in depth analysis of the national and international environment in which the Rivonia Trial in South Africa unfolded. While the Rivonia Trial has been studied by both lawyers and historians, the current historiography fails to situate the trial within the context of international communism and the global movement against apartheid and anti-colonialism more widely.

In 1963–64, ten defendants in South Africa were tried under the General Laws Amendment (Sabotage) Act and the Suppression of Communism Act. This trial was widely observed across the world and was a subject of a UN Security Council Resolution demanding the release of all political prisoners. The early 1960s was a time of great racial unrest in many areas of the world and the period witnessed the further flourishing of anti-colonial movements in Africa and Asia as well as the emergence of a powerful civil rights movement in the USA (and to a lesser extent Northern Ireland). Many of the defendants of the Rivonia Trial were internationally known figures and had links with activists in other countries including both the USA and the UK. On top of this, the Cold War was a vital driver of international diplomacy with the African continent being an area over which both sides of the conflict were fighting for dominance.

My project aims to address the gap in the current historiography by offering an historical account that will provide a unique view of the trial. The argument, in brief, is that the politics of the trial can only be fully grasped once it is properly and thoroughly situated in the context of international diplomacy and geo-politics, and transnational civil rights and anti-colonial movements. The trial is one that is very well known but the nature and the significance of the international (diplomatic) and transnational (civil rights/anti-colonial) connections that elevated it into a major political event are less well understood.


South Africa, United States foreign policy, UK foreign policy, United Nations, Anti-Apartheid Movement, Cold War, anti-colonialism, non-governmental organisations

General research interests

Transnational history, diplomatic history, international relations, political trials

Academic school / department

School of Education, Humanities and Languages

Further details

Academic and professional training

  • MA Theory and Practice of Human Rights, University of Essex, 2008 (Merit)
  • BA (Hons) Politics and Human Rights, University of Essex, 2006 (2:1)

Scholarships and prizes

  • 2018 Martin Lynn Scholarship, The Royal Historical Society (July 2018)
  • HPC Postgraduate Research Fund awards, Oxford Brookes University (December 2015 and February 2018)
  • Research Expenses Grant, Royal Historical Society (October 2017)
  • Moody Research Grant, Lyndon.B, Johnson Presidential Library (November 2017)
  • Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. Research Fellowship, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library (November 2017)
  • Santander Scholarship 2017–18 (March 2018)