On 10 May, 1994, Nelson Mandela delivered his inaugural speech. Were I an historian I would wax lyrical about the man. Others will assail us with such pronouncements for probably weeks to come. Not I. As but a humble rhetor allow me merely to examine this particular speech and his delivery of it.
For some time I have been sitting, as it were, upon the speech he delivered to ecstatic crowds upon his release from prison in 1990. If you wish you can view that here. The problem with it is that his first audible word arrives eventually at 5:36, preceded by tumultuous cheering, whistling, applause, and “You’ll never walk alone”. His inaugural address was a much more sober affair.
My first observation is that the monumental significance of the occasion, to a very marked degree, got to him. Furthermore he evidently knew that it would – though not a particularly powerful crystal ball would have told anyone that. The speech had been very, very carefully prepared and crafted.
And written down.
“Oh come on, Brian,” I hear you shout in exasperation. “On an occasion such as this you surely won’t begrudge him a script!” No, of course I don’t begrudge him it, but he would have been better without.
I have absolutely no doubt whatever that the speech was written from his heart, but it was spoken from his eyes. And that is, and will always be, the trouble with a scripted speech. Had he known how to structure and prepare even a hugely important speech for an historic occasion like this for delivering without the hindrance of paper, and then trusted himself to shoot it from the hip, he would have spoken it from the heart and that would have made it immeasurably better.
We need not have lost that beautiful symploce beginning at 8:03 – “Let there be … for all”. We certainly would not have needed to have lost that wonderful Face of the speech at 8:30, “Never, never, and never again shall it be …” Yes, it was wonderful; but watch and you will see he even looked back at the paper for each of the succeeding occasions that he uttered the word, Never”. Did he need to consult his script each time for that word? No, of course not. But that does demonstrate how, when you permit it to control your speech, paper becomes a demanding tyrant. And like all tyrannies it impoverishes what it rules.
Nelson Mandela 18 July, 1918 – 5 December, 2013.