Nelson Mandela’s First-Ever TV Interview (1961)

Note: This post was orig­i­nal­ly fea­tured on our site in 2010. In light of the news that Nel­son Man­dela has passed away at age 95, we’re bring­ing this vin­tage clip back to the fore. Here you can see a young Man­dela mak­ing his­to­ry, and with­out per­haps real­iz­ing it, build­ing the remark­able lega­cy that remains with us today.

In 1962, Nel­son Man­dela was arrest­ed on alle­ga­tions of sab­o­tage and oth­er charges and sen­tenced to life in prison, where he spent 27 years before becom­ing South Africa’s first pres­i­dent elect­ed in a ful­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic elec­tion. His sto­ry, among mod­ern his­to­ry’s most pro­found­ly inspi­ra­tional, is beau­ti­ful­ly and poet­i­cal­ly cap­tured in Clint East­wood’s 2009 gem, Invic­tus. But what East­wood’s account leaves out are the events that pre­ced­ed and led to Man­de­la’s arrest.

In May of 1961, a 42-year-old Man­dela gave his first-ever inter­view to ITN reporter Bri­an Wid­lake as part of a longer ITN Rov­ing Report pro­gram about Apartheid. At that point, the police are already hunt­ing for Man­dela, but Wid­lake pulls some strings and arranges to meet him in his hide­out. When the reporter asks Man­dela what Africans want, he prompt­ly responds:

“The Africans require, want the fran­chise, the basis of One Man One Vote – they want polit­i­cal inde­pen­dence.”

But per­haps more inter­est­ing is the dia­logue towards the end of the inter­view, where Man­dela explores the com­plex rela­tion­ship between peace and vio­lence as protest and nego­ti­a­tion tac­tics. We’re left won­der­ing whether his seem­ing­ly sud­den shift from a com­plete­ly peace­ful cam­paign strat­e­gy up to that point towards con­sid­er­ing vio­lence as a pos­si­bil­i­ty may be the prod­uct of South African police going after him with full force that week. Vio­lence, it seems, does breed vio­lence even in the best and noblest of us.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Nel­son Man­dela Archive Goes Online (With Help From Google)

The Nel­son Man­dela Dig­i­tal Archive Goes Online

U2 Releas­es a Nel­son Man­dela-Inspired Song, “Ordi­nary Love”

Maria Popo­va is the founder and edi­tor in chief of Brain Pick­ings, a curat­ed inven­to­ry of eclec­tic inter­est­ing­ness and indis­crim­i­nate curios­i­ty. She writes for Wired UK, GOOD Mag­a­zine, Big­Think and Huff­in­g­ton Post, and spends a dis­turb­ing amount of time curat­ing inter­est­ing­ness on Twit­ter.

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Comments (4)
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  • Chiel Reemer says:

    What a man. I feel shum­bled and ins­pi­ored by such strength.

  • One Woman One Vote says:

    So, my ques­tion is, is Maria Popo­va the writer of this arti­cle? Because who­ev­er wrote it lost their objec­tiv­i­ty and start­ed edi­to­ri­al­iz­ing in the last para­graph. How does she inter­pret what he said as “con­sid­er­ing vio­lence” when what he actu­al­ly described was a process of look­ing at and reeval­u­at­ing non-vio­lent techniques–a clear warn­ing to the “pow­ers-that-were” that their vio­lence could turn back on them. To make such a state­ment does not mean that one is con­sid­er­ing vio­lence, just that if pushed far enough one has to even­tu­al­ly defend one­self. And for­give my edi­to­ri­al­iz­ing when I say that con­sid­er­ing self defense is not “con­sid­er­ing vio­lence”.

  • Truth Troubadour says:

    SALUTE TO NELSON MANDELA! u201cVOLCANOu201d is an anti-Apartheid song that was released in 1988 on the 12 song LP titled Ride the Wind by Vic Sadot’s CRAZY PLANET BAND. Free at this Last FM link! The song describes the abus­es of extreme racism and eco­nom­ic exploita­tion that rep­re­sent­ed the Apartheid regime in South Africa. In those days the US gov­ern­ment con­sid­ered Nel­son Man­dela to be a u201cterroristu201d as he lan­guished in prison for decades. Vol­cano explodes on the notion that the end­ing of Apartheid was inevitable giv­en the sheer num­bers of peo­ple involved and the will to have free­dom and jus­tice that burns in hearts of most peo­ple. VOLCANO has Vic Sadot Singer-Song­writer on vocals and elec­tric rhythm gui­tar. Rob Sadot on elec­tric gui­tar, Ed Gors­ki on key­boards, Tris Hov­anec (RIP) on bass, Rob Box­turtle­bob Chirn­side on drums, and jazz singer Ellen Lebowitz on guest back-up vocals. Cool Cov­er by Curt C. S. Wayne (RIP)

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