Nov 14, 2022 - World

After 30 years, the Mandela tapes

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Cover: Audible

Richard Stengel — the collaborator on Nelson Mandela's autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom" — spent 70 hours interviewing the South African freedom fighter in 1993, after Mandela's 27 years in prison.

Driving the news: The conversations existed on Sony cassettes and microcassettes. Now, all that rickety tape is coming to life as a 10-part podcast from Audible, "Mandela: The Lost Tapes."

Why it matters: Listeners will hear directly from one of history's great global figures, at length and at ease. Stengel tells Axios that Mandela is vulnerable — and at times funny, as he imitates voices, including the British teachers of his youth, and even prison guards.

  • The podcast, available on Dec. 1, is about half Mandela’s voice, and half Stengel’s narration. The tapes capture the ambient sound of the intimate chats — asides, and people coming in and out.
  • "You feel like you’re in the room,” Stengel told Axios. “You are in the room.”

Details: The 60+ conversations were recorded at Mandela’s office — African National Congress headquarters in Johannesburg — and two of his homes.

  • Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for negotiating the end of white minority rule in South Africa. He became the first Black president of his country, and was called a "20th century colossus" when he died in 2013 at age 95.

Stengel, who served as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy for President Obama, donated the big box of tapes to the Nelson Mandela Foundation in 2010. The foundation digitized it all. About 50 hours were usable.

  • Editor's note: Stengel was Mike Allen's boss at TIME.
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