Digitisation of the Rivonia Trial
Pictured (l-r) Mr Frank Marchetti – Head of Cooperation and Cultural Affairs - Director of the French Institute of South Africa, Ms Brenda Kotze -NARSSA, Mr Vuyo Jack - Director General of the Department of Arts and Culture of South Africa, Mr Frédéric Chambon – Audiovisual Attaché Embassy of France, Madame Elisabeth Barbier, Ambassador of France to South Africa, Mr Gerrit Wagener - NARSSA, Ms Mandy Gilder, acting National Archivist of South Africa and Ms Louise Graham, Chief Director of International Relations of the Department of Arts and Culture for South Africa
Dictabelts of the audio recordings of the Rivonia Trial kept at the National Archives and Records Service of South Africa (NARSSA) are on their way to France to be digitised by France’s National Audio-visual Institute (INA).
The Dictabelts were handed over by Mr Vuyo Jack, Director General of the Department of Arts and Culture of South Africa to Madame Elisabeth Barbier, Ambassador of France to South Africa on 10 October 2014 in Pretoria. Also present was Ms Mandy Gilder, acting National Archivist of South Africa.
Ms Brenda Kotze and Mr Gerrit Wagener from NARSSA left for France on 12 October 2014 to deliver the first batch of 200 dictabelts.
Giving background to the event Ambassador Barbier said, “this event represents the realization of an important and symbolic cooperation agreement between South Africa and France, in the field of culture and heritage. This agreement was signed in Paris, on the 20th of December 2013, between the Department of Arts and Culture and France’s National Audio-visual Institute (INA). This was in the presence of the then Minister of Culture, Paul Mashatile, as part of the closing ceremony of the France-South Africa reciprocal cultural seasons.”
Dictabelts were a sound recording format intended for use in offices. In South Africa it was used most extensively in the court system. Sound was mechanically recorded by an engraving process and
replayed with a stylus similar to that of a microgroove record player. Through the years the technology became obsolete and the dictabelt recorders fell into disuse in the 1970’s.
France has the equipment and skills to digitise the dictabelts and INA has submitted a proposal to transfer training and skills to South Africa so that the remaining dictabelts can be preserved and digitised by South African personnel. The Rivonia trial recordings are part of an audio archives collection composed of over 10, 000 dictabelts in total, recorded between 1950 and 1964.
Speaking at the handover ceremony Mr Vuyo Jack said once the dictabelts are digitised the information of the Rivonia Trial will be shared with all South Africans and it is to them that it will add value. He said that the trialists, knowing they were facing life sentences, were fearless and spoke their minds and he was sure that South Africans will be inspired by the ideals of the trialists and strive to live by those values. Access to the transcripts of the Rivonia Trial will unlock dynamic opportunities for filmmakers, musicians, scholars and will be an interesting source of conversation to many.
Nelson Mandela and the other anti-apartheid leaders were sentenced to life imprisonment. In his defence, Nelson Mandela made a 3 hours long speech that became the manifesto of the anti-apartheid movement, and contributed to the mobilization of international opinion against the regime.
Emphasising the significance of the digitisation and accessibility Ambassador Barbier pointed out that, “50 years later, the original audio recordings of the trial represent a unique piece of South African collective memory and a world heritage. They were listed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2007, and declared a national heritage. Beside the trial transcripts, there are no other recordings and no TV or film footage of the trial proceedings.
The digitised dictabelts will be back in South Africa in 2016 and the information that has been inaccessible will be accessible to all South Africans for the first time in 50 years.