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.

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.