Rivonia Trial records listed on intl register

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pretoria - Two of South Africa's most historic archival collections have been listed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (UNESCO) Memory of the World International Register.

The collections of records from the Rivonia Trial and the Liberation Struggle Living Archive have been inscripted to the international register which aims to identify and preserve documentary heritage from all over the world.

The UNESCO register also raises awareness of documentary heritage and promotes public access to them.

The Rivonia Trial was a turning point in South Africa's history. In 1963, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Dennis Goldberg, Govan Mbeki and Ahmed Kathrada among others were charged with planning acts of sabotage and plotting to overthrow the apartheid regime.

That trial that followed between 1963 and 1964 became known as the Rivonia Trial after the suburb of Johannesburg in which they were arrested.

The original documents were on display during the handing over event on Thursday. Delegates were also able to listen to the court trial proceedings and Mr Mandela's stirring "I am Prepared to Die" statement he made in the Pretoria Supreme Court at the opening of the defence case in 20 April 1964.

Minister of Arts and Culture Pallo Jordan, said the international community had shown immense interest in the records, in particular the Rivonia Trial records.

However, the collection, which is housed at the National Archives of South Africa, is incomplete.

"A trial of this magnitude generated a lot of documentation in the form of photographs, files, written reports, leaflets, pamphlets, notebooks, dictabelts and sound recordings.The records are scattered all over our country.

"Some are universities; others are in libraries and collections in other parts of the world," the minister said.

According to the National Archives and Records Service of South Africa Act No 43 of 1996, the Rivonia Trial papers are public records, and should be preserved at the National Archives of South Africa in Pretoria.

He called on South Africans who are in possession of these historic archives to forward them to the National Archives of South Africa where they rightly belong.

"I urge our archivists, librarians, museologists, specialists, curators, historians, conservators to collaborate with colleagues from other parts of the world to ensure that global awareness about the importance of preserving documentary heritage is taken to higher levels," the minister said

Mr Jordan said the process of tracing and repatriation of these records had been slow and arduous, noting that in 2000 Mr Mandela handed the microfilm copies of these documents to the National Archives for preservation.

On November 2008, the Oppenheimer family, who had bought a sizeable collection of the papers from the leader of the Rivonia prosecution team, Percy Yutar, handed their collection to the National Archives.

"It must be absolutely clear to us all that we are preserving for posterity something that should never have occurred.

"What we are doing is safeguarding for future generations, both here and in the rest of the world the record of an act of repression - the Rivonia Trial of 1963 to 1964," he said.

South Africa boasts two other collections in the international register, the Bleek Collection housed at the National and the Dutch East Indian Company records commonly known as the VOC housed at the Cape Town Archives Repository.