News / Africa

Journalist Recreates Nelson Mandela’s ‘Life in Sound’

Then-African National Congress President Nelson Mandela salutes the crowd in Galeshewe Stadium near Kimberley, South Africa, Feb. 25, 1994.Then-African National Congress President Nelson Mandela salutes the crowd in Galeshewe Stadium near Kimberley, South Africa, Feb. 25, 1994.
x
Then-African National Congress President Nelson Mandela salutes the crowd in Galeshewe Stadium near Kimberley, South Africa, Feb. 25, 1994.
Then-African National Congress President Nelson Mandela salutes the crowd in Galeshewe Stadium near Kimberley, South Africa, Feb. 25, 1994.
Darren Taylor
After South Africa’s last white president freed revolutionary hero Nelson Mandela in early 1990, parts of the country exploded into violence.  International observers said it was on the cusp of all-out civil war.  Some even predicted the destruction of Africa’s largest economy. 
 
The analysts’ attention was particularly focused on a bitter power struggle between Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) and the country’s other major black political movement at the time, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).
 
“South Africa was burning....  We would hear about people being killed.…  There were running battles; sometimes you didn’t know whose story to believe, who was inciting (violence),” says veteran South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) journalist Angie Kapelianis.   
 
One of the flashpoints was the East Rand – a vast network of impoverished townships near the country’s biggest city, Johannesburg.  There, ANC and IFP supporters often clashed.  Their weapons of choice were AK 47 assault rifles and machetes.
 
“A lot of us carry the damage of what we witnessed in those days.  Besides all the people who were massacred, journalists were (also) killed,” Kapelianis remembers.  “It was a country gripped in madness.”
 
Also at the time, various black minority groups such as the Azanian People’s Liberation Army were still launching attacks on targets – such as bars and churches – frequented by white South Africans.  Far right white groups were attacking black people.
 
There were many fatalities. 
 
Kapelianis says, “Today, it seems like it all happened in another country.  It’s unreal to believe that that boiling pot is where we came from.”  
 
‘I’d put you in my pocket …’
 
The central figure in this cauldron, the man who took it upon himself to end the insanity, was Nelson Mandela – freshly free from a 27-year stint in prison for leading an armed struggle against white minority rule.
 
Although Mandela “very clearly belonged to the ANC,” says Kapelianis, “he also transcended petty politics.”  At gatherings all over South Africa, the liberation icon emphasized that “everyone” was involved in building a new country.
 
“He would say to every single rally – ‘If my pocket was bigger, I’d put all of you in there and I’d take all of you home with me,’” says Kapelianis.   
 
Reconciliation was Mandela’s mantra, and just as he preached good relations between black and white South Africans, so he urged ANC and IFP supporters to find common ground. 
 
Kapelianis explains, “He really made a great effort to show South Africans and the world that people who had been so divided, who had been so politicized, could actually live together, work together, sleep together, chat together, drink together.”
 
Mandela’s work was rewarded in the 1994 elections.  While all and sundry had predicted widespread bloodshed during South Africa’s first democratic polls, the vote was “surreally peaceful,” the journalist says.
 
Mission to ‘heal amnesia’
 
For the past seven years, Kapelianis, funded by the SABC, has been compiling a radio archive of Mandela’s life. The material is being stored at SABC headquarters for future broadcast.  She’s uncovered material from all over the world to paint a comprehensive “picture in sound” of the man she describes as one of the most remarkable human beings in history.
 
The reporter’s confident her project will “heal amnesia.”  Kapelianis says people’s memories of events are often “distorted,” but her sound archive will present “who said what (and) how they said it” at the time of certain “special moments” in Mandela’s life and political career, such as his speech at Cape Town’s Grand Parade after his release on February 2nd, 1990.  
 
Kapelianis’s mission has also uncovered “the unexpected, unknown, unusual gems” within Mandela’s career.  For example, after months of intensive “digging” at South Africa’s national archives, she discovered a “primitive sound recording” of Mandela giving one of his most famous speeches, at a treason trial of ANC members at Rivonia in 1964. 
 
“No one seemed to know whether his words had ever been recorded.  But it turns out the court worker at the time taped it,” Kapelianis tells VOA.  The SABC had to send the “dusty, old” recording to experts in Britain to restore the sound.  
 
Kapelianis says, “When I listened to that extract, where he says he was prepared to die for his principles and his beliefs, it is still as powerful today – maybe more so – than it was at the time, because it was (delivered) in the court setup; it wasn’t in a stadium or on a platform.” 
 
Cultural sensitivities
 
She acknowledges, though, that “it’s been very difficult to come up with such fresh – or refreshed – stuff in the case of a person of the stature of Nelson Mandela, because there’s such a lot known about him.”
 
But Kapelianis says perhaps her greatest challenge lay in getting South Africans, from ordinary people to high-profile individuals, to talk about Mandela.  She explains, “There are a lot of cultural sensitivities, that you don’t talk about someone or you don’t prepare for someone going, when they’re still around.”  
 
Another issue Kapelianis had to confront in her project was how to present Mandela’s “weaknesses” and “shortcomings.”  She stresses, “There must be space for that.  We must also hear the views of those who very close to him, and to get them to reveal the different facets of his character – good and bad.  As much as we accord Nelson Mandela godlike status, the fact is he was a human being, with greatness as well as flaws.”
 
It was Mandela’s humanity, she says, that compelled him to emerge from retirement in 2002 to publicly disagree with his beloved ANC’s approach to South Africa’s HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Then President Thabo Mbeki was refusing to provide millions of HIV-infected citizens with life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs, on the grounds that the medicines were “poisonous.” 
 
The journalist recalls, “Mandela called a news conference where he basically instructed the ANC government to act with regard to HIV/AIDS.  He basically told them, ‘You’ve got to make sure our people receive the treatment; that they receive the care and love that they deserve.’” 
 
This famous incident is also reflected in her sound archive. 
 
Masking his emotions
 
Mandela’s voice has been ringing in Kapelianis’s ears for many years.  So she’s in a unique position to comment on his qualities as a speaker.  She says the man was always “a very calculating, measured speaker, quite halting; he’s not the great orator, like a Martin Luther King.  He doesn’t have that charisma when he speaks.  But I think what he is, is a man of his word.  When he has said something, he means it.”
 
She remembers “crisscrossing” South Africa covering Mandela’s election campaign in 1994.  “That was when I first got the impression that Mandela didn’t particularly enjoy giving speeches,” says Kapelianis.  “He would deliver a prepared speech that you knew someone else had written for him.  But the cue for us journalists became that the minute he took off his glasses, or put his speech down – we knew that that was where the news lay.  That was when he would start speaking from the heart.”  
 
Yet she describes Mandela’s leadership as “extraordinarily non-emotional.… He didn’t seem able to express anything that was really emotional.”
 
Kapelianis is convinced that this was as a result of Mandela’s almost three decades of incarceration.  “I think he learned to mask his emotions and how he was really feeling, in prison.  And I think that was a coping mechanism,” she says.
 
‘The People’s President’
 
But her sound archives will reflect that Mandela was also capable of “extraordinary friendliness.  He would make unannounced visits to shopping centers, for example, to meet ordinary people.  He would walk around his neighborhood greeting people in the street.”
 
Kapelianis will remember Mandela as “a man who understood people, and who wanted to touch people.  Just like we had the late Lady Diana as the ‘People’s Princess,’ I would call him the ‘People’s President’ of the world.”
 
She says she hoped Mandela would live “forever and ever.”  
 
But she’s sure her project will provide the Nobel Peace Prize winner with a “great send-off.”  Kapelianis explains, “There’s something very powerful, at the time of someone’s death, to hear on radio them speaking in their own words, their own voices, expressing their own views.  It kind of like shakes you awake.  (You say), ‘My God; this is the person who’s just passed away and here they are speaking.’  And nothing can replace that.”

Listen to report on Mandela audio archive by journalist Angie Kapelianis
Listen to report on Mandela sound archives (by D. Taylor)i
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

You May Like

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Tour Will Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

US secretary of state to visit 5 countries in the Middle East, South Asia in bid to strengthen economic and security ties, ease concerns over deal with Tehran More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Mehtasaab from: Washington, DC
December 06, 2013 10:34 AM
I feel sorry for losing one of the best world leader of Peace and love.
Also I am not happy for not supporting South African Black majority for their rights for many years. India was the only country did not had any relation with minority ruled South Africa. Indian citizen where not allowed to travel South Africa after independence from UK. USA, UK and Israel could have done better job than India. Instead they have sold weapon to minority ruled government. They could have forced minority ruled government to change their attitude toward black majority,

by: twe
December 06, 2013 10:19 AM
Well where is the sound of a train station bomb going off?
I didn't hear that noise???!!!!

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs