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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level 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.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid