From the day of our arrest is the title of the artistic performance that prefaced the formal proceedings of the launch of the restored Rivonia Trial sound archive on the evening of 26 September 2018. The performance was specifically written and performed to coincide with the launch.
The evening was opened by the Nelson Mandela Foundation's Chief Financial Officer, Limpho Monyamane. Framing the event as a night of history and remembrance, she thanked all the partner organisations that contributed to the successful restoration of over 250 hours of sound recordings of the Rivonia Trial. These have recently been digitised through ongoing cooperation between the Department of Arts and Culture, the National Archives and Records Service of South Africa (NARSSA), and the French National Audiovisual Institute (INA).
The programme for the night allowed for input from partners and key contributors to this project. The Deputy Dean of Humanities at the University of the Witwatersrand, Prof. Garth Stevens, offered some opening remarks in which he centred the importance of the archive and elucidated on how archives allow for interpretation of the past through the use of present-day lenses to reveal varying histories.
Prof. Stevens added that the interpretation of different histories cannot solely be reliant on text, and that archives allow for diversity and variation. An explanation of the genesis of the project was offered by the Embassy of France in South Africa as well as the Department of Arts and Culture.
Erika Denis from the Embassy of France in South Africa acknowledged and thanked all the partners that contributed to the restoration process. She also mentioned that one of the key objectives of this initiative was to create a platform for skills transfer and information sharing. This was echoed by NARSSA's Dumisani Basina, who cited the training agreement that initiated the digitisation process and how this partnership would filter through to other digitisation projects with NARSSA.
The second part of the programme allowed the audience to interact with and gain a deeper understanding of the restoration process. Henri Chamoux and Quentin Geffroy from INA offered a detailed explanation of how the Dictabelt (an analogue audio recording medium) worked and the need to invent the Archeophone (a modern, electric version of the phonographs and ediphones from the 19th and early 20th century), which was instrumental in the recovery process. They also played some sound extracts while explaining some of the challenges they encountered due to contextual and linguistic differences. The audience was then offered an opportunity to comment on what they had heard and ask questions about the restoration process.
The 26 September event was followed by an international scientific colloquium hosted by IFAS (French Institute of South Africa) at the University of the Witwatersrand on 27 September. The colloquium reflected on the contemporary and historical significance of the restored Rivonia Trial sound archive and other legal archives through a comparative "reach" into the experiences of colonial and repressive regimes in other parts of Africa.
This event brought together key stakeholders that contributed to the successful restoration of the Rivonia Trial sound archive and highlighted the exceptional work carried out in the restoration of the sound archive. It is prudent to note that the expertise and resources offered by INA have made this unique piece of collective history accessible to the South African public and presented an opportune moment for a transfer of skills and expertise to South Africans.