Listen: the Nelson Mandela audio series

Joe Richman, founder of the non-profit organisation Radio Diaries, worked meticulously to compile audio snippets of Nelson Mandela from more than 50 interviews with the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former president FW de Klerk. He also managed to get an introduction to the series from Mandela himself.

Nelson Mandela Radio Diaries Nelson Mandela provided an introduction to Mandela: An Audio History, compiled by Joe Richman from Radio Diaries. (Image: Nelson Mandela Foundation)

Priya Pitamber

When Joe Richman, founder of the non-profit organisation Radio Diaries, had lunch with Nelson Mandela and his family, he ate pork chops, Swiss chard and rice, with strawberries for dessert.

Between 2003 and 2004, Richman had tried his best to interview Mandela for the documentary Mandela: An Audio History. It was an audio series on the struggle against apartheid as told through accounts of Mandela by those who had fought with and against him.

“We had Mandela’s daughter, his doctor, friends from Robben Island, all trying to help us get an interview with him,” wrote Richman on his website. “But it never worked out.”

Eventually, Richman received a call from Mandela’s friend and doctor, the late Dr Nthato Motlana. He suggested Richman travel to Soweto where Mandela was receiving an award because it could be the chance he needed to do an interview.

“I went. The event was a bust,” he wrote.

Motlana offered him a ride back into Johannesburg, but they stopped at what Richman described as a big house with a security guard outside. The doctor went in first, and once Richman got the okay from the guard, he went into the house.

“And there, at the dining room table, I could see the back of that unmistakable head. Nelson Mandela, his wife Graça Machel, one of his daughters, two of his grandsons, and Dr Motlana were all sitting down for lunch. There was an extra chair and place setting, for me.”

He got his interview for the audio series, which comprised accounts from more than 50 people and included never-heard-before recordings.

The series was handed over to the Nelson Mandela Foundation in April this year. “The importance of preserving, learning and sharing history is indisputable,” the foundation said. “It helps us to understand who we once were and how we got here.”

It had been broadcast to more than 50 million listeners, said the foundation.

“The Nelson Mandela Foundation will preserve and make these oral history archives available for scholars and researchers,” said Sello Hatang, CEO of the foundation.

Richman noted that Mandela generously recorded an introduction for the radio series and spoke about the importance of understanding one’s own history.

“And I left his house feeling like I would take a bullet for that man,” he concluded.

Listen to the seven part series:

Radio Diaries 1: An Introduction Nelson Mandela

Radio Diaries 2: Birth of Apartheid 1944 to 1960

Radio Diaries 3: Underground Movement 1960 to 1964

Radio Diaries 4: Robben Island 1964 to 1976

Radio Diaries 5: State of Emergency 1976 to 1990

Radio Diaries 6: Democracy 1990 to 1994

Radio Dairies 7: The Final Chapter