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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated 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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid