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The Rivonia Trial records go digital

28 September 2018 CURRENT AFFAIRS


By Motlagae Konyana

The Nelson Mandela Foundation and theFrench Embassy in South Africa, the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS), have partnered to digitise the Rivonia Trial archives.

More than 250 hours of recordings from the court hearings of the Rivonia Trial are now accessible to the public.

An official ceremony and presentation of the restored archives was held at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg, on Wednesday night.

Henri Chamoux, a French sound engineer and inventor of the Archeophone phonograph, which was used to restore the recordings, demonstrated the digitisation of the archives and explained how long it took and how much the project cost.

“I am a French civil servant working for the Rhône-Alpes Historical Research Unit  a joint research unit of the CNRS. I am also the inventor of the phonograph (1998) and it is with this device that I digitised the Rivonia dictabelts alone. The recording and editing took place over a 15-month period and totaled about 230 hours of recording” Chamoux said. “I was the first to edit the Rivonia Trial, I was honoured and privileged,” he added.

On Thursday, an international colloquium took place at the University of the Witwatersrand,  where different showcases, listening sessions and conversations were held. These sessions covered restoring and preserving our history. The importance of having a place for our history to teach future generations about where we come from was emphasised.

Both events were structured around the theme “Listening to the Rivonia Trial: courts, archives and the liberation movements”, and sought to celebrate the unique heritage contained in the restored sound archives.

“It is through access, dialogue, and imagination that we can build a future that builds on our past” said Limpho Monyamane a representative on behalf of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

As the Rivonia Trial records go digital, the restored sound will be a first for the South African public, who had previously not been able to access the recordings, due to the obsolete recording format.

What a time to be alive and what a privilege to have heard the digital recordings of the Rivonia Trial – a trial that played a significant role in our country and the road to liberation. A special moment was a video of the late Ahmed Kathrada listening to the recordings of a trial that took place over 30 years ago.


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