The death of Nelson Mandela was announced last night and has triggered a wave of warm reflections on and re-examinations of his life and work. The media has been fascinated by Mandela since the 1960s and we wanted to take a look back over Mandela’s media story through Jisc MediaHub.
Although Nelson Mandela had been politically active since the 1940s it wasn’t until his participation in the ANC (the African National Congress) started to lead to sanctions, including bans on speaking in public, and arrests, that Mandela began becoming prominent internationally.
In this, occasionally very dated but also quite prescient, Roving Report on South Africa, from 1961, you can watch (from around minute 11) Nelson Mandela’s first television interview. At this time he was already in hiding from the authorities.
Mandela talks in the interview about non-violent protests but also addresses concerns around – and calls for – violent protest, framing these concerns and calls for action role with the role of violence in the South African authorities’ treatment of black South African’s protesting apartheid.
Whilst the overarching intent was peaceful, violent protests did follow, with the ANC implicated in some of these acts, as Mandela discussed in a 1990 interview. However, when Mandela was tried on counts of sabotage and conspiring to violently overthrow the government, Mandela’s presentation of himself and the ANC’s opposition to the racism inherent in the apartheid system gained international attention.
Mandela was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1964 with political activists and the British media taking note. An anti-apartheid march took place in London in June 1964, organised with trade union participation and including a speech by Bertrand Russell:
The campaign that began in 1964 was to carry on for decades, with the ANC and other anti-aparthaid campaigners, international organisations, and many supporters around the world keeping Mandela’s imprisonment a live issue, and using it as a focal point for criticisms of the South African government and it’s actions.
By the mid eighties the pressure on South Africa to change was gaining real momentum. Although Mandela had not been seen since his arrest, his reputation was still formidable, as this 1985 profile shows. In 1986, footage shot by an American TV crew at Medipark Clinic in Cape Town, appeared to be the first sighting of Mandela in almost 25 years. The identification was confirmed by his (second) wife Winnie, a fellow ANC activist and one of the most vocal campaigners for his release during his long imprisonment.
In June 1988 a major ANC Rally took place, with Zulu leader Chief Buthelezi giving a powerful speech calling for Nelson Mandela, still the ANC’s influential leader, to be released.
The campaigners would not have to wait long … The South African Government started to offer some concessions, although Mandela refused a day-long visit from family for his 70th birthday in 1988, finding such an offer problematic to “accept such a gift if his people were not able to give him that same gift of celebrating that same day with him“, as Winnie Mandela explains in this news clip from July ’88.
Rumours of Mandela’s possible release began to circulate and when a car-bomb exploded at the ANC headquarters in September 1988, international pressure particularly from the US, increased.
And then, astonishingly, in 1990, Nelson Mandela was released. It seemed the whole free world celebrated.
The world’s news organisations compiled special, extended packages of events.
As President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, Mandela was revered globally as a peacemaker and philanthropist. Children even voted him Santa of the Year.
But he was also shrewd politically, distancing himself from his estranged wife Winnie by sacking her from government in 1995.
In 1999, aged 81, Nelson Mandela retired from politics but continued to speak out on issues that concerned him, both local and international. He was listened to attentively by senior politicians, diplomats and other world leaders. In 2004, as his health began to deteriorate, Mandela “retired from retirement”.
Jisc MediaHub records one of the rare public appearances of his final years, at the concert in Hyde Park in 2008 to celebrate his 90th birthday.
We will never see his like again.