File picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency/ANA.

Johannesburg - The more than 250 hours in recordings of the Rivonia Trial are now available for all to access.

The 1963 to 1964 sound archives have now been restored to a digital format that makes it easier not only to access but to listen to as well and for free.

An official ceremony and presentation of the restored archives was held at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Joburg, on Wednesday night.

France sound engineer Henri Chamoux, who invented the Archeophone phonograph, which was used to restore the recordings, demonstrated the digitisation of the archives.

“I was the first to edit the Rivonia Trial, I was honoured and privileged,” Chamoux said.

The event was hosted by the National Archives and Records Service of South Africa (NARSSA), the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC), Institut national de l’audiovisuel (INA), the Nelson Mandela Foundation, the French Embassy in South Africa, the French Institute of South Africa (IFAS) and IFAS-Research, and the Wits History Workshop.

On Friday, an international colloquium will take place at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Both events are structured around the theme “Listening to the Rivonia Trial: courts, archives and the liberation movements”, seek to celebrate the unique heritage that the restored sound archives represent to the South African public, who had previously not been able to access the recordings because of the obsolete recording format.

Dumisani Basina from NARSSA said in 1996, when the Department of Justice transferred the Rivonia Trial records to the organisation, "the officials realised that not all the paper records related to this historical court case were present". 

"The most complete set was the Rivonia trial dictabelt recordings, consisting of 591 dictabelts, to give you picture, that is more than 250 hours of audio.

From that, there arose the need to digitise them. 

"After numerous attempts, it was in Cape Town, 2012 during the Sound Africa - France season where discussions with INA and the Department of Arts & Culture began, Basina said.

He said the agreement was signed between INA and the Department of Arts and Culture in Paris is 2013 which subsequently led to the dictabelts being transported to France, and digitised before they were returned to South Africa. 

"The second phase of our cooperation with INA led to the training agreement signed in March 2016 at the Palace of Justice in the court room where the Rivonia trial originally took place. 

"After rigorous training in France and currently in South Africa. NARSSA will now be able to digitise huge collections in its archival repositories using the Archeophone which is the machine invented to digitise the dictabelts. Today we celebrated this fruitful and good relationship between INA and NARSSA alongside the centenary of Nelson Mandela and the foundation," Basina said.

Limpho Monyamane who spoke on behalf of the Nelson Mandela Foundation said: "It is through access, dialogue, and imagination that we can build a future that builds on our past."

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The Star