Saving Mandela and ANC leaders Court Trial Recordings The collection at risk : 270 hours of sound recordings


Priceless recordings of the historic trials of Nelson Mandela and the ANC leaders from 1963 and 1964 were kept in the vaults of the South African National Archives. The recordings are part of Rivonia trial collection which was enlisted into the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2007.

The trial procedings were recorded on 555 “dictabelts” (dictaphone tapes), an obsolete technology. Therefore, the main challenge faced by the National Archive was : how to provide access to this exceptional collection, and first of all, how to play back the old “dictabelts”.
Project and partners

The project was submitted to FIAT/IFTA in October 2013, jointly by the South African National Archives and the French Ina (Institut National de l’Audiovisuel).

It included: the “re-invention” of the playback equipment, adapted from the machines used for playing sound cylinders, the digitization and the restoration of content, the transcription and documentation of the collection.

The National Archive agreed that the project would be implemented in France and the first part of the Collection was brought to Paris in October 2014. Ina is coordinating the digitization tasks and is also responsible for overseeing the restoration.

The “Save Your Archive” program granted the necessary resources to digitize the first 100 dictabelts pieces. This partnership between the FIAT/IFTA international organisation together with the participation of Ina, the public partner, famed for its excellence in technical expertise, were critical in the success of the project.
Perspective and Impact

As of May 2015, the digitization of 200 “dictabelts” was competed, of which 60 pieces have already been restored, enabling the transcription of content by South African archivists and witnesses of the event.

The rest of the collection has been brought to France. Its digitization will be completed by December 2015 and the restoration in 2017. Promotion and access to the collection will be provided from 2016 onwards.

Ina is also preparing the transmission of its specific knowledge to the team at the South African Archives to enable them to apply this knowledge to save the remaining trial collections held in the vaults of the National Archive.
Presentation at Save Your Archive Workshop, FIAT/IFTA World Conference 2014 in Amsterdam.
Source: Press release