Nelson Mandela Foundation

The Rivonia Trial of 1963/64, which led to the sentencing to life imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, Walter Sisulu and several others, was recorded on Dictabelts, a now-obsolete recording format. Over 250 hours of sound recordings of the Rivonia Trial have recently been digitised and restored, thanks to cooperation between the Department of Arts and Culture's National Archives and Records Service of South Africa (NARSSA), and the French National Audiovisual Institute over the last five years.

New technologies were used to restore the sound archive, making this invaluable heritage accessible to the South African public through the NARSSA website. This allows researchers, writers, artists and other citizens to (re)discover this deeply pivotal moment in South African history.

The evening of 26 September at the Nelson Mandela Foundation opened the scientific colloquium "Listening to the Rivonia Trial: Courts, Archives and Liberation Movements", co-organised by NARSSA, the French Institute in South Africa, the National Audiovisual Institute (INA), the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Wits History Workshop.

This opening night brought together artists, researchers and scientists around the presentation by NARSSA and INA of the genesis of the project and the digitisation and restoration process of the audio archives of the Rivonia Trial.

Its aim was to highlight the exceptional nature of the work carried out within the framework of this partnership, which, thanks to INA's expertise and resources, made this unique piece of collective memory accessible to all South Africans. Emphasis was also placed on the technologies and know-how implemented, and the transmission of this expertise to South African partners.

The international scientific colloquium was organised in collaboration with the Institut Français d'Afrique du Sud to reflect on both the contemporary and historical significance of the Rivonia Trial audio archive as part of the opening and study of the apartheid archives in South Africa.

These restored archives will be handed over by the French government to the South African government during an official visit to be announced in the coming days.

This official ceremony will close the first phase of an exceptional French-South African cooperation that began in 2012 and that has enabled the digitisation and restoration of all the sound archives of the Rivonia Trial national heritage.

Image: The Pretoria Palace of Justice, where the Rivonia Trial took place. (Foter)