Sunday, 19 October 2008

A bit more colour to the ‘Bible’:

The following is an interview with Sonny Venkatruthnam from 2002, the owner of the Robben Island Bible:

‘The warder says, “the Anglican Church is here this week.’ You see, it was a practice every Sunday; either the Methodist or the Roman Catholics or Dutch Reformed or whoever, comes there and hold services in the section. So he told me it was the Anglican Church and I said, “Anglican Church? I didn’t know Anglican Church comes here because I thought only the Dutch Reformed Church comes here.” I said, I’m playing on his English background, you see. He says, no, the Anglican Church comes there, he goes to it and blah blah blah. I tell him I’m an Anglican you know but I left my Bible in the storeroom. Okay, he says he’ll open the storeroom. He takes out his keys; opens the storeroom; and I pick out my book: The Complete Works of Shakespeare. I take it out and show it to him then, look there’s the Bible by William Shakespeare. So he let me have it, so I took it to my cell and we were celebrating. Now this is before other things happened, before the petition, now we have got this book. The problem is how do we hide it because there is nothing it’s a bare room, you see, we didn’t even have cupboards, nothing.
‘It was Deepavali time (‘Festival of Lights’, Indian Festival) and my parents sent me greeting cards. These are your typical Deepavali greeting cards. So I took those cards, cut them up and pasted the photographs on this [book] and we used porridge to stick it up. It’s the way it is since I had it on Robben Island. And I openly left this on the shelf, not shelf but on the window-sill, right behind my bed. They would come and ask me "what’s that?" And they would ask, "what's this?" And I said, "It’s my Bible." The one thing of the Afrikaner is that, there are two things he’s scared of: his God and his Bible, and a lawyer. They are very scared of a lawyer. So I had this, they did not touch it.

I think about four or five months before I left I got this complete works of Shakespeare, which I sent around and asked each one of them to choose a line or a paragraph that they can, or want to identify with. And it took about almost two months for it to make its rounds. And everybody chose a line or a paragraph and autographed it for me. Only single cells (political prisoners) got it. I didn’t have access to the general. Everybody signed, ya, you know. I have got a whole list of people that signed. You know Kader Hassim, Billy Nair, Walter Sisulu, Seake, Mobs Sikana, JB Busani, Govan Mbeki, Wilton Mkwai. Mac Maharaj, Joe Kabe, Bengu, Kathrada, Nelson Mandela, Andrew Masondo, Laloo Chiba, Andrew Mlageni, Eddie Daniels, Michael Dingakakis, Saths Cooper, Strini Moodley, Frank Anthony, Justice Mpunza, who died three weeks ago. Essop, Mohamed Essop, Neville Alexander, Cholo, Mhlaba, all of these people chose different lines. Govan Mbeki chose passage in Twelfth Night page 349.

Ya, this is Govan Mbeki. December 1977, he signed this and he told me that he always quoted this passage:
"If music be the food of love play on,
Give me excess of it..." blah, blah, blah.

That was his favourite passage because I asked him to mark it he said no that whole passage is his favourite, okay. Nelson Mandela - Julius Caesar page 980. Nelson chose lines from Julius Caesar. He autographed this on the 16th December 1977 (the anniversary of formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe, Spear of the Nation ( the armed wing of the ANC which was formed on 16th December 1961).
And the lines he chose were Caesar’s words:
"Cowards die many times before their deaths,
The valiant never taste of death but once,
For all the wonders that I have yet heard,
It seems to be more strain that men should fear,
Seeing that death a necessary end will come when it will come."

Okay. Andrew Masondo, this guy's a brigadier in the army now. He chose a passage again from Julius Caesar this is from Anthony and the passage he chose was:
"Oh pardon me thou bleeding piece of earth that I am meek and gentle with these butchers, Thou art the ruins of the noblest man that ever lived in the tide of times; Woe to the end that shed this costly blood, Over thy wounds now do I prophesy which like dumb months do hope there will be lips to beg the voice and utterance of my tongue."
Looking at this passage I think it's well chosen by Andrew Masondo because he was involved in that Quattro camp, and here he is talking about a similar thing. This is the way the man was thinking. And Anthony was now going to seek revenge over Caesar’s murderers, and that’s him.