At the Nelson Mandela Foundation I am responsible for processing of the sound and video archive; responding to research requests; updating the reading room and gift collection databases; and processing a number of paper-based collections. I spend about 70% of my time on the sound and video archive.
When I started working at the Foundation in 2007, the audio and video collections were stored inside a cabinet, and the recordings came in different formats, from analogue VHS (video home system) to DVD (digital versatile disc). There was no playback machine for the VHS recordings, and no cassette player.
Since it was too costly to acquire the various playback machines needed, an outside service provider was used to convert the analogue recordings to digital format. They also maintained the archive on our behalf on a server, giving us copies on either CD (compact disc) or DVD. The sound and video archive was therefore stored on different media and in several places; to retrieve anything was time-consuming and frustrating.
To overcome this problem, a few years ago we decided to centralise all our digital archival holdings on an integrated archival platform utilising open-source software initially developed by the International Council on Archives, and subsequently taken over by Artefactual. Our online archival portal consists of Access to Memory (AtoM), an online archival description and access system, and Archivematica, a web-based online system for long-term digital preservation. You can access our archive here.
Within the sound and video archive, there are donations of Mandela-related material from a number of institutions, such as the South African Broadcasting Corporation, Independent Television News (ITN) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). There are also some private donations. One of the conditions of these donations is that they can only be used by the Foundation and cannot be transferred to or used by third parties.
46664 concerts collection
The largest collection in the archive is the 46664 collection, comprising 75.9TB (terabytes) of footage. The collection consists mostly of the 46664 concerts, from the first one held in Cape Town in 2003, to the last concert held in Hyde Park, London, in 2008. The only concert that we do not have any footage of is the one held in Madrid, Spain, on 1 May 2005.
For each event we hold records in three different formats – MP4 and QuickTime for viewing/access, and HD (high definition) for broadcast quality and archiving. Even though the Foundation owns the footage, it cannot license the recordings and performances of the various artists, musicians and celebrities, as there were no agreements signed between any of the performers and 46664 or the Foundation. The consequence of this is that anybody wishing to use footage of the performances needs to get permission from the artist/s.
Mandela's 90th year
The next big collection is the Mandela 90th-year records. This documents Nelson Mandela's daily activities from July 2007 to July 2008 and consists of 741GB of footage shot by Giant Media. It is jointly owned and has been used with ease, but one needs to be cautious now with the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act coming into effect, as there were no release forms signed by any of the people who appear in the footage.
Mandela's interviews with Richard Stengel
Another important and interesting collection is the audio interviews of Madiba by American journalist Richard Stengel, made between 1992 and 1994. This collection comprises 65 files and provides a rich source on Madiba as it is a reflection on his life story, and was used for the writing of Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.
The Foundation's other sound and video collections on the support server are recordings of events such as Mandela's interventions in education, and on health focusing on HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis; Foundation book launches; Mandela Day events; and tributes to Mandela.
The Foundation also has an orphan collection – so-called because we do not know who holds copyright to these recordings, or who produced the footage. This collection was in a storage facility in Australia in analogue format, and was kindly digitised by Jasco, a South African company delivering smart technologies across multiple disciplines.
Lockdown had some positives for me because I managed to remotely access all the material that needed updating, and most of the backlog has been attended to. Now one needs to get used to the fact that videos consume loads of data, and that is the reason one frequently works in the office – during level 1 of lockdown I have been going in two days a week.