Wednesday, 4 November 2015

The Ethical Leadership Workshop based on The Robben Island Bible play



Matthew Hahn (Senior Lecturer of Drama and Applied Theatre, at St Mary’s University, London) is leading a team of practitioners who has put together workshops to explore the theme of Ethical Leadership with young people through the works of William Shakespeare as well as verbatim interviews with former political prisoners on Robben Island. 

The Ethical Leadership Workshop based on The Robben Island Bible play had it pilot at the South West Gauteng College in Soweto, South Africa in August 2014.  It ran over two weeks and delivered a presentation / performance of Shakespeare, monologues from the former political prisoners’ interviews as well as new pieces of writing created by the college students.  The students examined the current leadership situation on a personal, local & national level.  They also examined and reflected on their responsibility as young leaders as well as future leaders within South Africa.

These workshops have been inspired by South African Sonny Venkatrathnam, a former political prisoner on Robben Island and critic of the current political state of affairs within South Africa  and utilizing his copy of ‘William Shakespeare’s Complete Works,’[1] the team has come together over a shared believe that there is a dearth of ethical leadership in today’s world.  As inspirational as many of the chosen quotes were about leadership, according to Sonny, many of the men who chose these quotes whilst in prison and who are now currently in politics or business within South Africa have not lived up to such inspiration and have caused great harm to this young democratic country.  

But unethical leadership is not unique to South Africa.  From dictatorships that pockmark Africa, to a Nobel Prize winning president who condone the use of drones to drop bombs on countries thousands of miles away, to the abandonment of a green agenda in the United Kingdom, many world leaders are driven by short-term goals and personal wealth creation rather than true – ethical – leadership.  The Ethical Leadership Workshop has been set up as a direct response to such difficulties found in South Africa as well as the rest of the world by examining ethical leadership whilst young people are still in education.

Shakespeare’s characters portray this wide range of ethical leaders.  From Richard III and Macbeth whose inner demons drove them to the height of leadership at any cost to Henry IV who seeks to lead from the middle through consultation with his men before going into battle.

Political prisoners, like Shakespeare’s ‘Henry IV’, sought to learn from each other the foundation of ethical leadership whist on Robben Island.  From interviews, many of the men describe their time Robben Island as a ‘University’ where the men taught and learned from each other using the literature of Shakespeare, Sophocles and Marx amongst others.  Twenty years into a South African democracy, these men also reflect on how far they have come and how far they still have to go before true democracy is achieved for the masses and whether or not it was all worth it.

The Ethical Leadership Workshop is very flexible in it delivery.  It can consist of drama workshops, seminars and academic courses that would examine Shakespearean texts aimed at young people in schools, colleges or universities. The students examine what lessons can be learned and applied by today’s and tomorrow’s leaders.  Shakespeare's texts have been used in the past to explore how a good leader is formed, applies his or her vision and beliefs, behaves and manages the people and situations around him or her.  We want to build on this work, using interviews that Hahn conducted with men who were imprisoned on Robben Island to focus the minds and hearts of tomorrow’s leaders on the price one pays for truly transformational, inspired, ethical and sustainable leadership.  From a dramatist’s perspective, we would explore use of voice, space & body to highlight how a leader might be a source of inspiration to others.

The aim or the workshop is to benefit the students through being inspired to be better leaders through the words of Shakespeare & the former political prisoners and to create a pathway to future leadership.  If possible and of benefit, Hahn would be interested in working with local teachers to help shape & develop it in ways in which they think is best for their students.  He would be keen to work with them to finely develop the workshops.  The project is quite flexible in terms of deliverability. 


For more information about the lead facilitator, Matthew Hahn, please visit:

uk.linkedin.com/in/hahnmatthew1






[1] Sonny Venkatrathnam, political prisoner on Robben Island during the 1970’s, had a copy of ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare’ whilst on the island. The book’s ‘fame’ resides in the fact that Venkatrathnam passed it to a number of his fellow political prisoners in the Leadership Section on Robben Island. Each of them marked his favourite passage in the ‘Complete Works’ and signed it with the date. It contains thirty-two signatures, including those of Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada and Mac Maharaj, all luminaries in the struggle for a democratic South Africa.  See www.RobbenIslandBible.co.uk for further details.

No comments: