Friday, 17 October 2008

We have arrived.....

17 / 10 / 8

Just in Cape Town now for over 24 hours and it has been a wonderful start to our adventures. During the flight, I spent the time re-reading the brief biographies that I had prepared about each of the men whom David and I will be interviewing for the piece. Most of the information was gleaned from the internet and a variety of other sources. One thing that struck me is that everyone (including myself) is excitedly holding out hope that we might be able to interview Nelson Mandela. But as I read this bios, I am very much struck by the fact, and Mr. Mandela repeatedly states that in his writing as well, that it was not just a one man show that sheparded in a democratic South Africa, but many many people including many who signed the ‘bible.’

Just look at the following brief about Ahmed (Kathy) Kathrada:

‘Ahmed M. Kathrada is a veteran of the South African liberation struggle and one of the famous Rivonia trialists, and was a long-serving political prisoner on Robben Island and Pollsmoor Maximum Prison, and ANC leader and Member of Parliament.

In 1952, Kathy helped organize the 'Campaign of Defiance against Unjust laws', launched jointly by the African National Congress and the South African Indian Congress. The Defiance campaign targeted six unjust apartheid laws, amongst them being the Pass Laws, stock limitation regulations, the Group Areas Act, the separate representation of Voters Act, the Suppression of Communism Act and the Bantu Authorities Act.

In December 1962, Kathy was subjected to 'house arrest' for 13 hours a day. He went underground and continued attending secret meetings at Rivonia, the underground headquarters of the African National Congress. It was there that he was arrested with other leaders of the underground movement in July 1963. It was his 18th arrest on political grounds. Although he was then no longer a member of the MK Regional Command, he was tried with Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Dennis Goldberg and other leaders and was sentenced to life imprisonment in June 1964. They were charged with organizing and directing Umkhonto we Sizwe ('Spear of the Nation'), the military wing of the African National Congress. They were found guilty of committing specific acts of sabotage. At the age of 34, in 1964, he was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island where he spent the next 18 years with his colleagues in the isolation section of the Maximum Security Prison.’


And fortunately, we have an opportunity to interview this man who has greatly shaped the new South Africa.


Kathy chose the following text from Henry V:

King Henry V page 563

Act 3 Prologue, lines 2-15:

Chorus: Thus with imagin’d wing our swift scene flies,

In motion of no less celerity

Than that of thought. Suppose that you have seen

The well-appointed King at Hampton pier

Embark his royalty; and his brave fleet

With silken streamers the young Phoebus fanning.

Play with your fancies; and in them behold

Upon the hempen tackle ship-boys climbing;

Hear the shrill whistle which dot order give

To sounds confus’d; behold the threaden sails,

Borne with th’invisible and creeping wind,

Draw the huge bottoms through the furrowed sea,

Breasting the lofty surge. O, do but think

You stand upon the ravage and behold

A city on th’inconstant billows dancing;

scene 1. France. Before Harfleur.

King: ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;

Or close the wall up with our English dead.

In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man

As modest stillness and humility;

But when the blast of war blows in our ears,

Then imitate the action of the Tiger;

Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,

Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage;

Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;

Let it pry through the portage of the head

Like the brass cannon; let the brow

o’erwhelm it

As fearfully as doth a galled rock

O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,

Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean,

Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril

Wide;

Hold hard the breath, and bend up every

Spirit

To his full height. On, on you noblest

English,

Whose blood is fet from fathers of war

-proof-

Fathers that like so many Alexanders

Have in these parts from morm till even

Fought,

And sheath’d their swords for lack of

Argument.

Dishonour not your mothers; now attest

That those whom you call’d fathers did

Beget you.

Be copy now for men of grosser blood,

And teach them how to war. And you,

good yeomen,

Whose limbs were made in England, show

us here

The mettle of your pasture; let us swear

That you are worth your breeding-which

I doubt not;

For there is non of you so mean and base

That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.

I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,

Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:

Follow your spirit; and upon this charge

Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint

George!’


The themes of his chosen piece include: faith, loyalty, fighting for freedom, courage, resistance to power, knowledge is power, & belief in an ideal.


It is interesting that Kathrada has also been described by members of the ANC as, ‘brave as a lion….absolutely fearless’. Interesting in the famous battle speech of Henry V, the king asks his men to ‘imitate the action of the Tiger;


'Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood’


Both the prologue and the speech that follows would provide a sense of determination, a need for bravery and to draw on inner human strength. To read this passage when confined and your freedom to act is disabled must have given Kathrada some kind of focus and hope to continue fighting the oppressor. Arguably this demonstrates the power of the literature of Shakespeare can act as an enabling tool for the mind, when the physical body is not in a position to take action.


16 / 10 / 8


The mechanics of the interviews:

I decided that there is no time like the present and no matter how much both David and I were jet lagged (neither of us slept well on the airplane), we needed to get stuck in.


Having cultivated many relationships via email over the past two years with a variety of people, it was very exciting to attempt to speak with them person to person. My first adventure was to speak with Deidre, the education director at the Robben Island Museum. No joy….. but left a message and plan on visiting the musem anyway tomorrow.


I have just gotten off the phone with a Verne Harris, the director of the Mandela Centre for Memory. He has been the closest (one degree of separation) to Nelson Mandela that I have so far been able to achieve. I figure that a centre for memory would be very interested in working on this piece with us.


Naturally, he doesn’t believe that Mandela is able to assist us with the project. He says that even if we did schedule a meeting with him, he has good and bad days and so it may or may not happen. Rightly, they are very protective of him and repeatedly say that he has retired from giving interviews or commenting on research that is conducted. So, needless to say we are disappointed, but not surprised nor sad. He deserves to be left alone. He has given so much to South Africa and the world, that not much else needs to be done. He said to us on on 90th birthday, ‘Its in our hands now.’ Exactly.


But on a better note, Mr. Harris has agreed to assist us in any way be going back through Mr. Mandela’s writing to see if there is anything about the ‘bible’ that we might be able to use. Which is excellent news.


We took a walk around the waterfront today and spoiled ourselves with a very posh dinner there. It is a beautiful place, made even more interesting due to the fact that it is a working dock as well as a tourist destination.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Matt,
Audrey and I are so excited by your project. We shall follow your blogs with great interest. As you know Shakesoeare is our passion. It is quite exciting and thrilling to know that that the Shakespeare Bible could play such an important part of the lives of those imprisoned on Robben Island. May we wish your project all success and will follow your progress with great interest,
Great Respect.
Robin and Audrey Griffin.

Mark Griffin said...

Great to know you're up and running!

I was so moved reading the chorus speech picked out by Kathy especially the lines

'Suppose that you have seen
the well-appointed King at Hampton pier. Embark his royalty.'

It struck a deep memory of me Mandela's release from Robben Island. It was broadcast live on the BBC. They had a camera fixed on a long road and the horizon was lost in a heat haze. Nelson and Winnie appeared as flickering dots and walked into focus over about ten minutes. In every way it was like a dream. Although the South African struggle and democratic victory belongs to everybody who fought and campaigned to make it happen. I can't help but remember this iconic moment.

P.S: There was a news item this evening about Robben Island being overrun by rabbits...