10 Dec 2013

From the archives: Mandela’s first TV interview

In 1961, Nelson Mandela gave his first TV interview to ITN reporter Brian Widlake. At the time, he was a wanted man, and and was speaking not long after a brutal government crackdown.

ITN sent their reporter to South Africa in 1961, to film an episode in the Roving Report series, entitled The New Republic.

As well as the first interview with Nelson Mandela, who was becoming an increasingly prominent opposition figure, the programme included interviews with defenders and opponents of the divisive racial policies enforced by South Africa’s government.

A nationalist MP, Philip Taulager, told reporter Brian Widlake that apartheid attracted foreign investors and made them more confident that the country would always be ruled by whites. President of the stock exchange Arthur Taylor also described the country as a place of great natual wealth linked to a “cheap labour force”.

Scenes of the documentary shot in the townships revealed the plight of that labour force – segregated and denied basic civil and political liberty.

‘One man, one vote’

African nationalism had at that point restricted itself to peaceful acts of non-cooperation such as a recent call for a general strike, to which the government responded with widespread arrests and mandatory three-year sentences for strike action. As a result, these calls to action were often poorly supported by the impoverished majority.

Liberal critics of the government and the policy of apartheid, Helen Suzman and Julius Lewin, told ITN they believed that opposition was gradually growing, but neither could foresee any change in the republic’s racial policy.

Widlake was then taken to a secret location to meet with the ANC activist Nelson Mandela, who was in hiding on the run from the authorities.

In his first television interview, Mandela called for one vote for every man. He warned that if the government continued to repress the peaceful campaign for African franchise and a multiracial society, activists would be forced to look into “other methods”.