The National Archives Remembers Seaparankwe Andrew Mlangeni

Thursday, 23 July, 2020

On 11 July 1963, 19 people were arrested on the farm Liliesleaf in Rivonia, 10 of those arrested stood trial for 221 acts of sabotage designed to overthrow the then apartheid government, in the end 8 were found guilty and 2 were acquitted.  This trial started in October 1963 and ended in July 1964 and became known as the Rivonia Trial, a landmark trial in the history of South Africa where Mr Andrew Mlangeni and 7 of our leaders were sent to prison for life.  Officially this trial was known as the Criminal Court Case No. 253/1963: State vs Mandela and others.
The recordings of this trial on a format called a dictabelt are the most complete collection of the trial in addition to the Rivonia trial paper records as well as the Percy Yutar papers.  All of these records are preserved at the National Archives and Records Service of South Africa (NARSSA), a Chief Directorate of the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture.
The dictabelt recordings were not accessible until recently as this format was obsolete and no technology to play back these recordings existed in South Africa.  However, through agreements between the DAC and the French Government that started as early as December 2013, the NARSSA and the National Audiovisual Institute in France (INA), worked tirelessly over a period of more than three years to digitise the 592 dictabelts that made up the Rivonia Trial recordings.  It is through the innovation and technical genius of the French officials that this was made possible by their invention of the archeophone that was able to play back these recordings and ultimately restore them digitally.
Throughout this period various handovers and landmarks in the process was celebrated and we fondly remember the handover that took place in March 2016 where Mr Andrew Mlangeni together with late Mr Denis Goldberg and late Mr Ahmed Kathrada honoured us with their presence at the Palace of Justice, Courtroom C, where the original trial took place.  It was at this occasion where Minister Nathi Mthethwa also signed a training agreement for South African archivists to be trained to master these technologies to enable them to unlock other landmark trials in the liberation history of our country.
In November 2017 we were again honoured by the presence of Mr Andrew Mlangeni at the premises of the NARSSA when the online recordings were launched by the Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture, Ms Maggie Sotyu and where for the first time after fifty three years, the voices of these beloved struggle heroes could be heard again. This was a live event whereby members of the media the world-over and the public at large could experience how they will be able access the Rivonia Trial recordings by using the National Archives Website.

Published date: 
Thursday, 23 July, 2020