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Rivonia Trial dictabelts digitized

By K Bhana – Founding Editor

On March 17 2016 the voices and sounds of the historical Rivonia Trial filled the courtroom of The Palace of Justice in Pretoria’s Church Square. The distinct voice of Nelson Mandela was immediately recognizable as if it was being channelled through a medium at a séance.

Cooperation between South Africa’s Ministry of Arts and Culture and the French National Audio-visual Institute (INA) will make possible public access to over 50 000 dictabelts which will be digitised for easy dissemination. To begin with there are 230 hours of audio records of the historic Rivonia Trial that took place between October 1963 and June 1964. 591 dictabelts were entrusted to INA in October 2013 for digitization. The official handover of the recordings took place in dramatic fashion in the actual courtroom where the trial took place and was attended by among others three special guests, Andrew Mlangeni, Dennis Goldberg, and Ahmed Kathrada the surviving accused.

Picture: Courtroom C, Palace of Justice, Church Square, Pretoria


The availability of the recordings to the public will allow a wide analysis of the case itself and perhaps answer many questions regarding this significant milestone in South Africa’s history. It may also raise many questions about a paranoid and ruthless regime and a miscalculation of strategy on the part of the accused.

SEE ALSO: Digitisation of the Rivonia Trial

The misinformation and propaganda machine of the Nationalist apartheid government went into top gear as it went about justifying apartheid. It managed to convince some people, governments and business both internationally and locally that apartheid was a humane policy, while it went about relentlessly discrediting and brutally crushing any resistance in the name of terrorism.

The access to the digitized recordings will make abundantly clear the sad injustice that imposed an inhumane sentence on innocent victims of discrimination. It also makes apparent the irrational fear of a regime obsessed with defending a misconceived perception of their God given right.

During this time many South Africans left the country, some fearing for their lives as they escaped into exile. When they started returning in the early nineties after the initial steps of negotiation, they recounted stories of camaraderie and solidarity but they also recounted incidents of betrayal, spying, assassinations and double agents.

Those who resisted from within the country became all too familiar with these activities. Today it is a well-known fact that the liberation movements were infiltrated by numerous operatives and agents of not only South Africa, but of other countries as well.

Two decades into a constitutionally democratic and free South Africa, the impact of accessing these recordings will significantly change the way South Africans view their history and its impact on the present and enable them to perceive a proactive future.


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March 2018






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