Witness: Archive 2012

Witness: Archive 2012

United Kingdom

The story of our times told by the people who were there.


The Death of Steve Biko  

The anti-Apartheid activist Steve Biko, leader of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa, died in a police cell in 1977. The South African police claimed he'd gone on hunger strike and had starved himself to death, but he had only been in prison a matter of days. Helen Zille was the journalist who helped uncover the truth of his death - that he had in fact died of a brain hemorrhage due to head injuries. The report she published in the Rand Daily Mail showed that the govenment had lied. (Image: Members of the Socialist Party of Azania (SOPA) hold a candle light memorial ceremony to mark the death anniversary of the anti-apartheid activist and founder of the Black Consciousness Movement Steve Bantu Biko. Credit: RAJESH JANTILAL/AFP/GettyImages)

John Howard Griffin: Black Like Me  

John Howard Griffin, a white journalist, dyed his skin black to experience segregation in America's Deep South. John Howard Griffin wrote a book about his seven week experience. *** Listeners should be aware that some of the language in this programme reflects the historical context of the time. *** Photo: Griffin as a black man in 1959 (left). Courtesy of John Howard Griffin Estate.

The Los Angeles Riots  

In May 1992 the people of South Central Los Angeles took to the streets in fury at police brutality. They were angry that Los Angeles police department officers accused of beating a motorist called Rodney King, had been acquitted. Hear Rodney King's take on the beating, and the unrest and violence that followed it.

The Stolen Generation  

Debra Hocking was taken from her indigenous Australian family as a baby and was placed with a foster family. It was part of a government policy to try to assimilate Aboriginal children into white families. Photo: PM Kevin Rudd prepares to apologise to the Stolen Generation in Parliament on February 13 2008. (Getty Images)

African Troops During WWII  

During World War II, African soldiers were a vital part of the Allied forces. Many of them were sent to Burma as reinforcements for the British troops there. Hear just some of their memories - recorded by the BBC in the 1990s. Find out more about African troops in Burma in Another Man's War: The Story of a Burma Boy in Britain's Forgotten Army, a book by former BBC correspondent Barnaby Phillips, published June 2015. (Photo: East African soldiers in Burma fighting for Britain in WW2, unknown date. Credit: Topham Picturepoint)

Pong and the birth of the computer game  

It is 40 years since a video game was invented which would change the way we play. An on screen version of table tennis, to begin with Pong was only played in video arcades. But soon a home version was created which people could plug into their televisions. Photo credit: BBC.

Big Brother - the beginning of reality TV  

In December 1999 a young Dutch man won the first ever Big Brother reality TV show. It was to be the start of a global television phenomenon. But for 22-year-old Bart Spring in't Veld, his victory proved to be a mixed blessing. Photo: Big Brother winner Bart Spring in't Veld (Endemol)


In December 1980, thousands were killed in the Nigerian city of Kano following an uprising by an Islamic sect. The sect was led by a radical preacher, Maitatsine. We hear from a witness who saw hundreds of suspects summarily executed as the Nigerian state tried to crush the uprising. Photo: Kano old city wall c. 1975

Vietnam War - Christmas bombing campaign  

40 years ago the Americans launched their heaviest aerial bombardment of the Vietnam War. It was to become known as the Christmas bombing campaign. 20 thousand tonnes of explosives were dropped on or around the Northern city of Hanoi. Photo: A B52 flying over Vietnam. Credit: VT Freeze Frame.

The Execution of the Ceauşescus  

On December 25th 1989, Nicolae and Elena Ceauşescu were executed by firing squad. It was the end of one of the most repressive regimes in former communist eastern Europe. Petre Roman took part in the revolution that overthrew the Ceauşescus and became the country's first democratic prime minister. Photo: Nicolae Ceauşescu shortly before his execution.

Dusty Plays South Africa  

In 1964 the British popstar Dusty Springfield went on tour in apartheid South Africa. She said she would only play to racially mixed audiences but the authorities didn't approve. She was forced to leave the country before she had finished her tour. Photo: Dusty in 1964 - BBC.

Mad cow disease - CJD  

In the 1990s it became clear that a brain disease could be passed from cows to humans. The British government introduced a ban on beef on the bone. But for some people it was too late, members of their families were already sick. Photo: BBC.

Libya and Weapons of Mass Destruction  

In December 2003 Colonel Gaddafi announced Libya was giving up trying to make weapons of mass destruction. United Nations weapons inspectors were immediately sent to Tripoli to check. One of them has been speaking to Witness. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

The last men on the moon  

It is 40 years since the last moon mission returned to earth. One of the three astronauts on board was geologist Harrison Schmitt. He looks back on those moonwalks, and the discoveries they made. Photo credit: Harrison Schmitt/Science Photo Library.

Piltdown Man  

In 1912, Britain's top paleontologists were tricked by one of the biggest hoaxes in scientific history - a skull thought to be the "missing link" in human evolution. The remains were discovered in a gravel pit in rural Sussex and became known as Piltdown Man. Witness tells the story of the hoax using contemporary accounts of what happened. The programme also hears from Dr Miles Russell of Bournemouth University, author of "Piltdown Man: Case Closed". PHOTO: Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

The M Room  

How exiles from the Nazis helped British intelligence listen in on German prisoners-of-war. Ninety-three-year-old Fritz Lustig, a refugee from Nazi Germany, is one of the last surviving members of the secret "M Room". He helped glean vital information from German POWs about Hitler's war machine. Photo: Sgt Fritz Lustig, circa 1942 (courtesy of Lustig family)

Discovering Cleopatra's Palace  

Twenty years ago a former economist from France, Franck Goddio, began underwater excavations which unearthed a 2000 year old palace belonging to Cleopatra. PHOTO: A diver eye-to-eye with a sphinx. ©Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation. Photographer:Jérôme Delafosse

Marsha Hunt and the 1960s  

In the late 1960s a young black American woman rolled up in 'Swinging' London. Although Marsha Hunt says she couldn't sing, she ended up a star in a West End musical - Hair. And she had an affair, and a daughter, with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. Photo: Associated Press

Archive of Terror  

In 1992, a Paraguayan human rights activist called Martin Almada discovered a huge cache of documents in a run-down police station. The files showed the true extent of repression during the long military rule in Paraguay of General Alfredo Stroessner. And what became known as the "Archive of Terror" also proved that military dictators across South America had swapped prisoners and intelligence in an Operation codenamed Condor. Witness speaks to Martin Almada and the Paraguay expert, Andrew Nickson. PHOTO: AFP/Getty Images

The Origin of Nollywood  

The story of the 1992 film which launched Nigeria's hugely successful movie industry. It was called "Living in Bondage". We speak to one of the stars of the film, Kanayo O. Kanayo.

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