Saturday, 29 November 2008

Back in London....

Well, it has been a mad couple of days since our return. I still havent gotten my head around 'real life' though it has been wonderful to see Aida again. Next time, she has to come with me to Africa..... Let's see.

I have returned to 100s of emails, most of them either out of date or spam or not for me, so it has been fairly easy to get through them. And I am back teaching at St. Mary's, which has been great. The other part of my life. I hadnt really thought too much about teaching over the last few weeks, so it was good to get back into the theatres.

David & I parted ways in the airport - he off to East London & me off to West London. I must say how easy of a traveler he is and how stress-free of a trip we had. Neither of us had any idea of what we were getting ourselves into and I think that we accomplished a good amount and I think that we did 90 percent of everything that we set out to do.

I was disappointed that we couldnt speak to more of the Comrades due to scheduling conflicts or being out of town. But I hope with the success of this trip, we can try again - via post, email or having Masie interview them in South Africa. There were two men who we 'discovered' when we went to visit Sonny, they were not on the original document as signatorees. So that is exciting.

After a few days off, David & I will reconvene to go through all that we have learned over the last 6 weeks. I am really looking forward to finishing up the transcripts and beginning to artistically put something together.

Thanks & Good Bye!!!!

Our Going Away Party with some of the staff at the Robben Island Museum.

Monday, 24 November 2008

the performance at the museum

well, it was an exciting day for us. we started the day in the auditorium of the Robben Island Museum to rehearse for our afternoon performance.
the actors, as previously noted, were excellent - hard working & focused on their work. and, as typical, i guess in my work, it was a shotgun performance. never enough time, but this turned the morning rehearsal into a pressure cooker of creativity and choices. it is never a good thing to have too much time in a rehearsal room. better, i think, to error on the side of 'shit, we have only 20 minutes until the performance, lets do this and this and this.' creativity out of time constraints.

As Slept In by the Famous Nelson Mandela

on our last day on the island, masie & i walked around specifically looking for the first prison that mandela stayed in during his first inprisonment on Robben Island before the Rivonia Trials which imprisoned him for life.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

first (and last) rehearsal

ah, what a joy to be back in the rehearsal room even if it IS a lecture hall at the education department on Robben Island. Today marks our third day on the island and first full day of rehearsal with the two actors who will be performing on monday.
first off, they have worked excellently with great focus, even though they have come into this project quite blindly. but they too jumped off the cliff, which is always a good sign of a talented actor.

and it was so nice to be there posing questions to them, discussing Shakespeare and knocking out something that may just resemble a performance on monday. i just love being there and playing again.

masie joined us on the island this afternoon. he will be here until late on monday evening - flying back to jo burg after the performance. again, things are coming together smoothly for our last few days in the southern hemisphere.

we spent the first part of the rehearsal working on four of the chosen shakespearian monolouges ('once more into the breach'(Kathrada), 'How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me (Andrew Mlangi),‘This heavy-headed revel east and west Makes us traduc’d and tax’d of other nations (Saths Cooper) & 'This above all-to thine own self be true' (Dingake)).

then we read a selection of interviews that david & i had quickly culled from the ones that we had transcribed, looking at common themes between the interviews & the Shakespearian text. it was frightenly easy & lucid.

then i quickly staged them as best and as simply as possible, reminding the actors that as long as the project & have good articulation, then let Shakespeare & the Comrades' words do the rest. there is very little need to 'add' anything else to these words.

tomorrow (sunday) is a day off. we will leave the island in the morning and will spend the afternoon at richard's home at a braai. then monday the performance and hopefully a further interview with kwede. tuesday, we hope to speak with eddie daniels & general sijake. then a 'going away (but not for the last time)' party at deidre's home. then bright and early start for an 8am flight HOME!!!!

i spent a few minutes sitting on the rock beach or robben island after finishing rehearsal. again, quoting my theatrical inspiration, i looked 'softly' all around me and tried not to look to 'hard' at anything. i saw beautiful things - from flocks of birds every few minutes 'cawing' and flying over me to the 'table cloth' covering table mountain. and a skelton of an unfortuate peguin who had a run-in with a former domestic turned wild cat(you see, the rabbits arent the first non-native animal attempted to be purged from this island, and, like the rabbits, some survived.... poor defenceless peguins).

i will miss this place both for its incredible political & social past, but also because of its quite beauty.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Back on the Island

What a beautiful place, Robben Island is. It is just so sad that it has such a shameful past. Even before it was used to incarcerate political prisoners in the 20th century, it was a leper colony & a political prison in the 19th century.

And although it is barren (due more to those well publicised rabbits than anything else), it is an absolute priveledge to spend the night here. this place has filled my mind with contradictions.... david & i are staying in the guest house, the former colonial home of the commander of the island. so, beautiful yet it makes you want to spit on the floor. i can indulge in the beauty of the stately home, with all of its ornamentations and wonderful surroundings, but i can never forget that this man who lived here before us, was charged with a wicked wicked job.

for the first time in our trip, we can walk around at night. for the first time in our trip, there are no walls that divide the road from the homes. for the first time in our trip, there is quiet.

we met the actors for the first time yesterday morning - we will be working with three or four of them over the weekend. today has been a bit of a dashed hope day as the boats are experiencing mechanical problems and have severely delayed the actors arriving. we were suppose to start at 8.30am. it is now 11.07am. but, another first, i feel relaxed and not too bothered about it. because there is nothing that i can do about. i am on an island.

but, of course, there are all of the 21st century amenities that distract me from this beauty. internet, printers, photocopiers and the like are horrible distractions whilst i should be walking along the beach or soaking up the silence rather than hearing the tapping of the keyboard. if we find out when the actors will be arriving, then i can get away for a while. but as for now, we are in a bit of a holding pattern until we know when they will arrive. ah, africa......

i just cant get over the beauty of this place. i have taken a lot of photos which i will post as soon as i can. it is facinating as it seems caught in a time warp. after the leper colony and before the 20th century political prison, it served as a base for the South African army during the Second World War, so all around you have military homes, halls, clubhouses, postoffices built in that world-wide dull brown colour that represents military housing. in addition, there are dilapidated tennis courts and a swimming pool that still has a sign warning people to swim at their own risk even though it looks as though it hasnt been swum in in quite some time. maybe it is a warning for the birds & rabbits who now lounge around the pool sipping pina colatas.....

It is a guilty love of this beautiful place that i feel. it is like a microcosom of how i feel when i tour africa. it is a beautiful place full of possiblities and adventures - if you are white & well off. not sure if the same can be said for the most of the inhabitants of this country or for that matter, this continent. i feel very prividged to have this and so many opportunities to work and live and love africa, but it is not something that fully sits comfortably with me, it never has and may never will. i have the luxury of flitting between worlds in africa - like walking from the prison to the colonial guest house here on robben island.... i am 'allowed' to do that and there are few people who have been on this island in the past that could have had that opportunity to float between those two desparetly different worlds so close together one can walk between.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

the switch....

we arrived in Cape Town via a 20 hour bus journey from Jo'burg. something i dont think that i need ever to do again in my life. it was as comfortable as a bus journey could be.

we had planned to take the train once again, but it was sold out. so we had no choice but to take the bus. it was shorter by a few hours, but they train is just so much more comfortable.

so, we arrived two days ago a bit haggarded back at the Big Blue Backpackers. It was like comfort food, nothing had changed - still had the swimming pool & free wireless internet, luxuries that i had grown to miss in our journies around the country.

we had an excellent meeting with deidre, luvuyo & vanessa, all from the education department at the museum. besides updating them on our last three weeks of adventures, we also determined a rehearsal schedule with the robben island actors & the date of the performance on monday the 24th.

the exciting part is that we will be spending thursday & friday on the island, working with the actors. both of us are really looking forward to that.

over the last couple of days, i have had to make a conscious switch from co-ordinator of events or researcher into a more artistic practitioner role. it has been difficult as i still know there are interviews to be arranged, but now that we have a rehearsal schedule, this part is much more necessary. it is interesting putting a director's hat back on after being off for so long.

but i am enjoying it a lot. it too is like comfort food, something that i am much more confident with doing. i cant wait to get back into a rehearsal hall, even if it is on a former prison.

we are certainly in the final stretches of our trip. now less than a week left. seems strange, as it always does, that it has 'gone so fast' but i know that i am tired, worn out & i miss my wife. i am pleased to have the last few days on the island working on a performance as that we give me the energy that i need.

Performance at the Robben Island Museum

We have scheduled a performance / presentation on Monday the 24th of November at 2pm in the auditorium of the Robben Island Museum. All are invited and encouraged to attend. It would be excellent to get as much feedback as possible in order to develop the script.

We will be presenting our findings along with how the chosen texts & interviews will shape the script.

I will be working with the Museum's actors to workshop edited versions of the interviews and splicing them with the chosen Shakespearian texts. David will be presenting how we think the shape of the play might develop.

We will also be showing photos of the 'bible' that we took whilst speaking with Sonny & Theresa Venkatrathnam.

Invite from the Museum:

In the late 1970’s the Complete Works of Shakespeare, Alexander edition, circulated through the B Section Prison. Owned by Sonny Venkatrathnam & disguised as a religious text, the book was circulated amongst political prisoners. They signed passages within the text which they found particularly moving/meaningful/profound. The selection of texts provides fascinating insight into the minds, thinking and soul of prisoners at that time.

With the support of the prisoners who were signatories to the book and its owner, Sonny Venkatrathnam, two British directors, supported by John Kani of South Africa are looking to explore the resonances between the Shakespeare literary works and the prisoners. Matthew Hahn and David Taylor are well known in the theatre world for the activism through theatre. With experiences of working in the theatre training and education field, forum theatre in the UK, Ethiopia, Malawi, South Africa and USA, they share a great passion for ensuring access to the performing arts.

After six weeks of intensive research and working with the signatories who remain alive, Matthew and David have returned to Cape Town to work with a group of young emerging performers to experiment with some of their creative ideas. We wish to invite YOU to view this still very rough production!

Monday 24th November 2008
NMG Auditorium
14h00 – 15h30
The viewing will include the screening of scanned copies of the “RI Bible”.

Another gentle man....

I know that I might sound like a broken record, but once again I have been amazed & humbled by another Comrade.
Michael Dingake flew in from Botswana for just 24 hours to meet with us. We met at OR Tambo Airport and drove to his daughter's home in Johannesburg.
Like all of the other men, he spoke with a quite determination and belief in change. He spoke of a great love of literature & Shakespeare, analysising his chosen quote line by line tell us what he thought they meant. It was the first time that a Comrade had done such a through job of disecting his choice. It was an amazing moment.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Michael Dingake

Michael Dingake in 1965 was given a fifteen year sentence on the island for inciting people to leave South Africa to undergo military training and for recruiting people to the ANC.

Michael Dingake’s autobiography My Fight Against Apartheid. Born in neighbouring Botswana, Dingake initially comes to South Africa as a student who later, because of financial constraints, works in Johannesburg in order to save money for tertiary education. Since the concept of ‘foreign native’ does not apply to him. - in apartheid South Africa, non-South African black people were ‘foreign natives’ but were as equally discriminated against as ‘local natives’. Thus Dingake feels the same daily humiliation as Africans in South Africa.

This is an angry text, for Dingake describes, in minute detail, just how invidious passes are to black dignity and self -esteem:
The pass laws are a humiliation to African dignity, a scourge to their
economic opportunities, and a shameless badge of slavery. Passes -
permits, reference books, identity documents, passports, whatever the
official form of the moment - are a nightmare to Africans in South Africa.
Nightly, they dream of raids on their homes for passes, queueing up at
the pass office for passes.

Such statutory identities are also the cause of tremendous harm to the communities. For example, should one’s pass not be in order, one cannot get employment, or even venture out of the township in which one is living. Thus, out of desperation, individuals begin to socially cannibalise those closest to them by becoming criminals and robbing other community members of their pay (46). Through a combination of anger, frustration and ‘sober consideration’, Dingake joins the African National Congress (ANC) and assumes another facet of his identity by becoming a member of the National Secretariat. He does not contemplate going back to Botswana to save himself when the Emergency of 1962 takes its toll: ‘Running home to Bechuanaland was easier said than done for me. For 16 years I had worked and lived in Johannesburg and many of my friends did not even know my Bechuanaland connections.’ (78). When he does go to Botswana, it is to evade detection by the security police. Unfortunately, during an attempt to visit the ANC in exile in Tanzania, he is kidnapped by the then Rhodesian security police and handed over to their South African counterparts at the Beit Bridge border post. Thus begins a period of fifteen years with hard labour on Robben Island. The rest of the text describes the daily grind of life on the island. Paradoxically, only here does Dingake, under difficult conditions, achieve his ambition for higher education - he leaves the island in 1981
with three degrees.

He chose:
Hamlet page 1034

Act 1, scene 3 Lines 56-81:
Polonius: ‘The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay’d for. There-my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in they memory
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion’d thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy should with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d courage.
Of entrance to a quarrel; but, being in
Bear’t that th’ opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as they purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man;
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous choice in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all-to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any many.
Farewell; my blessing season this in thee!’


12 / 11/ 8

Having arrived at 10 in Pietermaritzburg this morning, I rang Kadir as previously arranged. But, due to ongoing illnesses, he was unable to meet with us this morning. But he did agree to answer questions via email which is excellent. So, David & I will be putting together a list of questions for him (and that will save us from transcribing!!).

So, the day off……again. This is nice, but I get a bit anxious with not enough to do. We do have a lot of transcribing to do, but after a couple of hours of looking at a computer screen, the eyes start to cross.

And I was hankering for a home cooked meal. The last couple of days, due to the fact that our Durban backpackers was in a bit of a blackhole as far as restaurants and markets go, I have been eating my fair share of ‘Bunny Chow’ – a delicious meal consisting of a hollowed out loaf of bread (or a half or quarter) filled to the brim with spicy broadbeans. Needless to say it is filling and delicious. After having one for lunch, there is no need (ever for me) to have dinner. But there is absolutely nothing ‘green’ in them.
Thus the home cooked meal quest.

Here in Pietermaritzburg, there was a ‘Super Spar’ – not my first choice of grocers, but do to the fact that I was ‘Bunny Chow’ed out, I went in and bought my weight in vegetables. I had missed cooking – the last time I did was in the early days in Soweto so it had been a couple of weeks. I home cooked nothing exciting – spag & salad, but it went down well.

We have decided to stay another day (Thursday 13 November) here as we don’t have any plans in Jo’burg until Saturday when we interview Michael Dingake. Pietermaritzburg is a bit more ‘Western –user friendly’ than the hubbub of Johannesburg.
We will arrive there at 4pm on Friday and interview Michael on Saturday. He is flying in from Botswana just to speak with us, though I would assume that he has friends here as he spent a good deal of his life in this city.

Kadir Hassim

12 / 11 / 10

Kadir Hassim was an accused during the Treason Trial, 1956-1961. On December 5, 1956, hundreds of policemen throughout the country descended on the homes of leaders of the Congress Alliance and arrested them. One hundred and fifty-six people - 104 Africans, 23 Whites, 21 Indians and 8 Coloureds - were charged with high treason, a capital offence in South Africa. The trial lasted until 1961, when all of the defendants were found not guilty. Some of the defendants were later convicted in the Rivonia Trial in 1964.

The state versus K. Hassim and twelve others in the Supreme Court of South Africa, Natal Provincial Division. Kader Hassim and twelve others were charged with participating in terrorist activities and conspiring to overthrow the government of South Africa in 1970 as members of the African People's Democratic Union of South Africa and of the Non-European Unity Movement. Kader Hassim, a Pietermaritzburg attorney, was an office bearer in the African People's Democratic Union of Southern Africa, an affiliate of the Non-European Unity Movement. Arrested in 1971, he was imprisoned on Robben Island for 8 years. Struck off the Role of the Natal Law Society in 1976, he was reinstated in 1996.

He chose to write his name above the introduction of Sonny’s ‘bible’ not really indicating any particular passage but rather just the introduction:

Lines: It is still true in the study of Shakespeare that ‘the dispersion of error is the first step in the discovery of truth’ (The opening lines of the introduction)

We will meet him later today as we set off from Durban to Pietermaritzburg today.

'New Sandals'

11 / 10 / 8

Today was a good day off. In the morning, I went to buy two bus tickets to get up to Pietermaritzburg, about 80 km from Durban. There we will interview Kadir Hassim, another signatoree.
After buying the bus tickets, I ventured into town. My goal was to exchange Sterling for Rand at the nearest Currency Exchange. As I was walking there, I realized that I did not have any form of ID on me, so there would be no way that I could exchange my money. So, I decided instead to have a wander around the two markets on the West side of Durban – the Victoria Street Market & the Warwick Triangle Market – my goal was to find sandals made from recycled automobile tires (a bit of an obsession on my part, I will admit – I already have one pair from Malawi, which I wear everywhere).

I start to hunt out shoe stalls in the Victoria Street Market and am quickly told that the ‘Zulu’s sell them at Warwick.’ Having skirted around that market a couple of days ago, I decided to dive it. It was an intense place, sounds, smells, the bustle of people – everywhere. Similar to the teeming markets of Malawi or Ghana. After a few more inquiries, I was directed up the stairs to another part of the market. I sure I must have been a sight, walking up to shoe stalls, pointing at my tire sandals and asking where I could find something similar. But no luck…….

But what I did find was an amazingly dense & overwhelming potion section of the market. Everything that one needs to cure all sorts of diseases – from herbs to fish and reptile skins to little refilled Smirnoff Vodka bottles filled with a mysterious black liquid. Well, it was quickly clear that there were no sandals in sight, but since I was already within the bustle, I might as well enjoy it. Entering one of the many narrow passageways, is like navigating through a rushing river (although a fairly small & safe one – don’t want to over-exaggerate my adventures). But once you are in, you don’t have much chance to ‘window shop’ as there is always someone behind you wanting to get by. And being over-cautious, I think that they might either be friend or pickpocket. So, with one eye (and hand) on my wallet and the other having a look around without being to obvious (other that the fact that I am the lone white guy within this whole witchdoctor potion area), I carried on. I can’t say that it was necessarily enjoyable, but it certainly was fascinating. I will never get bored of navigating in a world like this one.

After being spit out of the passageway and slowly recovering from the commotion and still no joy for the tire sandals, I started to walk away from the market – but stopped at one last shoe stall to test my luck.

‘Well,’ they said, ‘we don’t have them here, but the Zulu’s definitely sell them along the beach.’

Ack! The beach……. ‘Okay,’ say I and head towards the beach – a good 45 minute walk. But, as it was a day off and I wanted to see the city, why not…. So, off I went and sure enough found what I was looking for at the beach. The unfortunate thing was that I had seen these exact sandals in the market, but for some reason didn’t think that they were what I was looking for and for all of my inquiries; no one seemed to think they were what I was looking for as well. Ah, well, the beach IS beautiful and I was planning to head there anyway- and trying to buy anything at that market did seem daunting.
I plunked down my money and was now the proud owner of TWO pairs of tire sandals – though truth be told (and if anyone in Malawi is reading), I liked the ones that I got there better and could ALWAYS use another pair or two (size 10 by the way). They look a better quality and the fact that these were made from rusting nails didn’t do much for me (but since I have my tetanus shot, I bought them anyway).

Mission accomplished…….

Monday, 10 November 2008

More Pictures....

Pictures of the Bible

The Bible according to William Shakespeare…..

10 / 11 / 8

Today was a good day.
Today we finally met Sonny Venkatrathnam & his infamous ‘bible.’
It was a good day.

We arrived at his home around 11am and was greeting at the gate by Sonny. Another gentle man. Kind and quiet, but determined. His was the easiest of the interviews as it was relaxed and he made us feel so much at home (plus, by this time, we are getting better at the process & the camera and audio equipment….).
We were soon joined by his wife, Theresa. She & I had been emailing back and forth over the last couple of years. It was good to finally meet the both of them.
The conversation flowed from the process that the ‘bible’ took throughout the single cells to why he was imprisoned to what he & the others had to endure at the hands of sadistic warders.

We also were able to speak with Theresa about her trials & ordeals whilst Sonny was away for 8 years (he was sent to Robben Island for collecting money for the Unity Movement because the National Party & Special Police thought he was a terrorist). Living in the Transskie, it was no easy task to get to Cape Town for the 30 minute meetings once every two months. She too was harassed by the Special Police when Sonny was imprisoned and was herself threatened with imprisonment.

She is the second wife with whom we have spoken to about their time under apartheid. It is my hope that they too get the recognition that they deserve as they are just as steely & determined as their husbands.

And then the moment came…. ‘Would you like to see it?’
Playing it cool, I said ‘yes’ but didn’t want that to interrupt our interview. So Theresa went into their home & returned with it, neatly packed away in a box to protect it. He thumbed through it and continued to talk about his time on Robben Island.
The ‘bible’ got its name and extraneous decorations of Hindu gods due to the fact that the warders had an unhealthy fear of religion & would allow holy books and would not question having one in the cell. Decorated as such, Sonny was never far away from the Works.

David & I finally got around to cracking it open ourselves and comparing what we thought the chosen quotes were with the actual book. More or less, we were pretty close (it really depended on how precisely or imprecisely the comrades marked the passages). But there were a few surprises – a couple of names that we had never heard of as they were not on our list. That was a surprise…… now we will have to see if we can get in touch with them.

It was just so enjoyable to have a relaxing day at their very comfortable home. We had snacks & lunch with them, but we were always focused on the interview. Sonny & Theresa were excellent hosts and wonderful story tellers. But with stories as compelling as theirs and the others in their situation, it would be near impossible not to be enthralled.
We were there for almost 6 hours, but the day flew by. I have no idea how much we have ‘on the record’ or ‘off.’
He spoke about his favourite Shakespearian play (Coriolanus) and his favourite Shakespeare characters (Lear’s fool). He talked about the South Africa of the past & present and the difficulties with both. He spoke about how Shakespeare can be related to both. And he spoke about his grandchildren.

Today really put the pieces of the puzzle together. We finally saw the book, double checked the chosen quotes that we had & the actual ones in it and was able to see the chosen quotes of the men with whom we had already interviewed. I can’t wait to show them the photos ‘proving’ that they had indeed signed the ‘bible.’

It has been a long journey from a couple of pints with Mark & his offhand remark about ‘this Complete Works that was smuggled into Robben Island’ to holding it in my hands 6 years later, but it has been well worth it.

Now the hard part begins, turning this compelling story into a piece of wonderful theatre……

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Hector Peterson Museum, Orlando West, Soweto

Yesterday, I had a day off - went to the Hector Peterson Museum here in Soweto. I had been there before, but found it to be such a powerful museum that I knew that I wanted to return.

The photo of Hector Peterson’s lifeless body made headlines around the world in 1976 and did the powerful job of bringing Apartheid’s atrocities to governments that had previously denied such problems existed. He was a 13 year old school student who was marching in protest of having to learn Afrikaans in school. His shooting by the South African police along with the bloodshed that occurred on the 16th of June 1976 sparked the youth of South Africa to rise up against the Apartheid government. But my paragraph does not do his story or the other youth’s stories justice, so please read more about it here.

After the Museum, I went to the local shabeen called ‘The Shack.’ Football was on – the Orlando Pirates verses the Free State All Stars. Now, judging from my little knowledge of football especially here in South Africa, I figured that since I was in Orlando West, we all must be cheering for the Orlando Pirates. Much like the fine lines that divide supporters throughout London, Soweto is just the same. You see, the Orlando Pirates are from Orlando EAST not West. Any fool knows that….. right? Unfortunately, I cheered at all the wrong times and soon realized my error. But, as they knew I was not a local, they let me get away with nary a scratch.

After abandoning the game in exchange for taking politics, I soon found a circle of friends in the back of the Shack. My new friend Moeketsi was trying to convince me that having a girlfriend and a wife or at the least several girlfriends was not only typical, but also necessary so the man could ‘shop around’ or ‘have one under my arm’ (which was neatly accompanied by a arm gesture that looked similar to miming putting a small handbag under your armpit).

Although I argued back citing HIV / Aids and children would be possible consequences of said ‘shopping around,’ he was not convinced, though he grudgingly admitted that he would like to fall in love with one woman and get married, but he just can’t imagine falling in love nor not always having ‘one under his arm.’ And he also admitted that logically, it isn’t right, proper or a good idea, but what does logic matter when you get ‘bored’ as he says…..

I looked around for support from the females in the group and although they agreed with me, there was no questioning of Moeketsi as they just seemed resigned that it was just unchangeable behaviour and attitudes….. Where oh Where is Theatre for a Change when you need it? I fantasized that the company could just swoop in, do a bit of that fancy interactive theatre stuff and kick this guy’s arse. But, alack, there was no arse kicking, no change of behaviour & no Theatre for a Change. Hmmm, might have to do something about that……

So after an extended bit of friendly sparring, what we could agree upon is that we wanted to hear some music. So, they mentioned a bar, I agreed and we jumped into his friend, Phinda’s minibus (now, a bit of backstory for all of you worry worts out there… No, neither Phinda nor Moeketsi is a Pa Joe-like character and no, I did know them from Eve. They are friends with one of the tour guides with whom I have been talking to since arriving. They are all interested in promoting Soweto and making sure that us foreigners come back with happy tales to tell. So I was taken care of; they were nothing but excellent hosts).

We went to this excellent bar in the middle of Soweto, I never having been there, but I felt like I was in a bar in Italy – huge green space (with the typical breezeblock walls and guard at the front entrance) and a thatched roof restaurant. I felt that it was miles away from what many who avoid at all costs Soweto say this place is like. IT IS NOT TRUE. TRY IT YOURSELF!! Get out of your air-conditioned macrobus tour of Soweto and see what happens.

Michael Dingake

2 / 11 / 8

Michael Dingake called me a couple of days ago. I think that he was responding to my earlier email. I was so pleased to speak with him. He will be coming in from Botswana on Thursday to meet with us. As interesting as it would have been to go to Botswana (and it would have meant another member of the Pan African Band), it will be less expensive and time consuming for him to come here.
His book, ‘My Fight Against Apartheid’ is one of the most detailed accounts of prison life on Robben Island (along with the rest of his work with the struggle). It grabs you from the beginning and is quite a through account of his life.

Michael chose from Hamlet:

Act 1, scene 3 Lines 56-81:
Polonius: ‘The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay’d for. There-my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in they memory
Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion’d thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy should with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d courage.
Of entrance to a quarrel; but, being in
Bear’t that th’ opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as they purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man;
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous choice in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all-to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any many.
Farewell; my blessing season this in thee!’

next week....

It was a slow weekend, but good to catch up on organisation and also enjoy a bit of the backpacker’s life and Soweto. On Friday, I went into Jo’burg to try to figure out our transportation to Pretoria on Tuesday morning. We will be going there to meet with the Right Honerable Paul Yaw Boateng, the British High Commissioner to South Africa and also the British High Commissioner to the Kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland. Through our contact at the British Council, Jean September recommended that we meet with him due to his interest in literature & Shakespeare. Needless to say, we are thrilled to have this opportunity to once again speak about the project at the High Commission. There is also on veteran who lives in Pretoria (about an hour north of Johannesburg) with whom we would like to meet but as of yet have not confirmed an interview date.

On Wednesday, we hope to meet with Dr. Saths Cooper, another veteran who signed the ‘bible’ & then on Thursday, we will be meeting with Michael Dingake.

If all goes well, on Friday, we will take the train back to Cape Town or down to Durban (if we can get in touch with Sonny).

We will then need to schedule second interviews with Andrew, Kwede & Kathy and a first face to fact interview with Eddie Daniels. He returns in mid-November to Cape Town.

the weather....

2 / 11 / 8

The weather here is wonderful. When it rains, it RAINS and hard. I think that it is magnified by the tin roofs of the houses here, but it is an excellent sound. Absolutely overwhelming and in surround sound.
And as I write, hail is beginning to fire down upon us.
The lightening too is something quite magnificent. Lights up the entire sky and appears so close to us.
And now, it is quite, just an ever so gentle patter on the tin roofs and here comes the sun (or did it ever go away?).
And now, here comes the heat again. Ah, it was a brief respite with a cool breeze but now back to the dry heat.

Kliptown, Soweto

3 / 11 / 8
We had an early start this morning with a tour around Kliptown, Soweto. Kliptown is famous as this is where the Freedom Charter was developed and written in 1955. Our tour guide, Charmaine, was excellent and is quite an entrapanuer. She is thinking of starting a Soweto Mini Bus Tour & a Soweto version of ‘TimeOut’ – both I think are excellent ideas.
After that, we were picked up by Masie and driven to his place. This will be the first night that we have spent the night at his beautiful home. We have an early bus to Pretoria and want to leave our luggage somewhere as we will only be there one night.

We had an excellent dinner with Jane, Masie’s wonderful mother who fretted a lot about the quality of her vegetarian dinner as this is something new to her (or sort of new as she has other vegetarian guests in the past). But, she is thinking of becoming a vegetarian herself due to her diabetes, which she hopes will help reduce the pain in her legs.

I have heard quite frequently here in SA lately that there seem to be a few people whom we have met who are contemplating becoming a vegetarian, now whether or not it happens, who knows, but it is just shocking to me to even hear them talk about it.

The Right Honourable Paul Boeteng

4 / 11 / 8
The Right Honourable Paul Boeteng, the British High Commissioner met with us today, Election Day in the US, for a brief chat & discussion about the Robben Island Bible project and how he might be able to support it.
A bit of background on him:
The Rt Hon Paul Yaw Boateng is the British High Commissioner to South Africa and also the British High Commissioner to the Kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland
He was born in 14 June 1951. He was educated in UK – Ghana International School, Accra Academy and in the UK at Apsley Grammar School and Bristol University (LLB Hons). He speaks French. He lists opera, former Board Member of the English National Opera and current President “Opera For All”, art history, swimming and Arsenal Football Club amongst his recreations. He has contributed chapters to books on politics and theology “Reclaiming the ground” and on Jane Austen “Harrap Collins The Complete Works of Jane Austen” and has presented a number of radio and TV series in the United Kingdom including “Looking Forward to the Past” (Radio 4), “Behind the Headlines” (BBC2) and “Nothing But the Truth” (Channel 4). He is a Methodist Lay Preacher. From 2002 to 2005, he was the UK Cabinet Minister (Chief Secretary to the Treasury) under Tony Blair.

David & I went up to Pretoria to meet with him as that is where all of the SA government offices & international embassies are located. We were both very excited at this opportunity, for me it was more just the oddness of meeting him and thinking once again, ‘how in the world did I get up here?’

He gave us some practical advice on possible development ideas and he agreed to write a letter of support for the project. We also talked about dovetailing this project with a project that they are instigating in Durban.

Feeling very chuffed, we went back to our backpackers where we had left our stuff. This backpackers and the regal High Commissioners office could not have been in two more different worlds. We arrived in the morning in Pretoria and dropped our bags off. We were greeted by the friendly staff who immediately warned us not to leave our stuff lying around the room. The place was dank and dirty and just on the wrong side of sketchy….. but we were in a hurry and agreed to stay the night there. We left for our meeting and decided to worry about where we sleep later. Neither David nor I were looking forward to returning to that place. So, after the meeting, we returned & asked for our bags as we decided to find another backpackers. With our tails slightly between our legs, we sheepishly asked them for our money back, which they graciously returned and we hightailed it to a brilliant backpackers in Hatfield I had been gagging for a swimming pool for a while after having been spoiled in Cape Town. This place, the North-South Backpackers fit the bill.

The people there are so friendly – both the staff & the other backpackers. We had an excellent dinner in Hatfield celebrating our successful meeting with the High Commisioner.

Theo Cholo

Yesterday, we met with Theo Cholo. The little information that we could find on him proved to be greatly incorrect (never trust the internet, you see). Rather than being ‘24’ in 1973 as we thought, he was in his late 40’s. We expected someone with a similar experience to Saths, but we found someone who seemed to have more in common with the RI elders.

He was quite funny when speaking about his choice. According to the bible, he chose Sonnet 123:

No, Time, thou shall not boast that I do change:
Thy pyramids built up with newer might
To me are nothing novel, nothing strange;
They are but dressings of a former sight.
Our dates are brief, and therefore we admire
What thou dost foist upon us that is old;
And rather make them born to our desire
Than think that we before have heard them
Thy registers and thee I both defy,
Not wondering at the present nor the past,
For thy records and what we see doth lie,
Made more or less by thy continual haste.
This I do vow, and this shall ever be;
I will be true, despite thy scythe and thee.

But upon reading it, he didn’t like it nearly as much as he liked Sonnet 122:

Thy gift, thy tables, are within my brain
Full charactered with lasting memory,
Which shall above that idle rank remain
Beyond all date even to eternity—
Or at the least, so long as brain and heart
Have faculty by nature to subsist;
Till each to razed oblivion yield his part
Of thee, thy record never can be missed.
That poor retention could not so much hold,
Nor need I tallies thy dear love to score;
Therefore to give them from me was I bold,
To trust those tables that receive thee more.
To keep an adjunct to remember thee
Were to import forgetfulness in me.

So, again, memory plays a wonderful trick on the mind. He lived in a township outside of Pretoria. Masie was gracious enough to drive us there. But I know that he loved every minute of it as by the end of the interview, both Theo & his wife were referring to him as ‘son’ and insisting that he return again to their home. Once again, the magic Masie smile broke out from ear to ear. He would have driven to London to meet the men that we were meeting.

We have been staying at Masie’s home in Soweto for a couple of nights this week (Weds & Thursday). The place is beautiful – the first thatched roof two story house in Soweto. Now there seems to be a few more, but his was the first. And it looks madly out of place, but it is a warm & wonderful home.

On Monday, we are meeting with Sonny Venkatrathnam, the owner of the ‘bible’. We are thrilled to finally meet him as I have been in communication with him since September 2006. We hope to be able to look at the ‘bible’ and photograph the various passages to help ‘prove’ to the comrades whom we have interviewed that they did indeed sign this or that passage.

Things are progressing well with the project. We may head next towards Cape Town if we can secure an interview with Eddie Daniels, if not we will head back to Jo’burg to meet with Michael on Saturday. We also hope to find the phone number for Kadir Hassim, another signatoree who lives in Pietermartiezburg, just north of Durban.

Saths Cooper

8 / 11 / 8

Since returning from Pretoria on Wednesday after spending an excellent evening at the North South Backpackers in Hatfield (which I would highly recommend to anyone spending time in Pretoria), we met with Sath Cooper back in Jo’burg. Saths Cooper Is
Political Activist and Psychologist who was born on 11 December 1950 in Durban. He was the eldest child of Alimal and Appasamy Cooper. Cooper matriculated from Sastri College, Durban in 1967. The following year, he enrolled for a B. A. degree at the University College - an affiliate of the University of South Africa (UNISA) - Salisbury Island, Durban. As a student Cooper was against the motion which called for the imminent renaming of the College to University of Durban-Westville.. He saw this as another form of segregating Black people along ethnicity.

Politics gained the upper hand in Cooper's life as he soon found himself liasing with other students from various universities. He was also instrumental in the formation of the Student Representative Council (SRC) in the University College. Through campus politics Cooper met frequently with Steve Biko, Harry Nengwekhulu, Strini Moodley and Barney Pityana, and it was through their discussions that the philosophy of Black Consciousness emerged. It was also this group that advocated that Black universities move away from the radical National Union of South African Students (NUSAS).
In 1969 Cooper was suspended from the university for his political ideologies. However, although Cooper strongly refutes it, in 2003 there was a dispute on whether he was suspended for political reasons or for cheating in an exam. As an expelled student, Cooper could not take part in the launch of the South African Student Organisation (SASO) in 1969 and the following year the South African government denied him a passport to study overseas, where he had received a scholarship.
Having been asked to assist the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) in 1971, he urged other Indian activists to embrace the Black Consciousness ideology not to see it as as potentially leading to Black racism. At the launch of the Black People's Convention (BPC) in 1972 Cooper was elected as secretary. This forced him to resign his Vice-President position from the NIC, as it was increasingly difficult to balance his provincial and national positions. The following year he was banned and restricted to the Durban magisterial district for five years for his role in political activities. Cooper later took part in the Durban Strike of 1973, where he was arrested, charged and convicted for assaulting a policeman.

Cooper was instrumental in the organisation of the ‘Viva Freelimo rallies’ held in South Africa in 1974. This resulted in him being arrested under the Terrorism Act and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in 1976. He served his prison term at various places, among other Robben Island, and was released on the 20 December 1982. While in prison he continued studying and obtained his B.A. degree in Psychology through UNISA. Upon his release he continued studying and completed his honours and masters in Applied Psychology through the University of Witwatersrand. In February 1983, he re-entered politics and was elected Vice-President of the Azanian People's Organisation (AZAPO). He was again detained, in September 1984, with Aubrey Mokoape under Section 28 of the Internal Security Act, for carrying out the ideologies of banned organisation. After his release Cooper studied for a doctorate in Applied Psychology. Between 1990 and 2002 he was a practising psychologist. In 2003 he was appointed Vice-Principal of the University of Durban-Westville and steered the merger with the University of Natal.

Dr. Saths Cooper, a ‘76’er. – the young men who were arrested & detained around the time of the Soweto Uprising in 1976. He was the perfect antidote to the ‘Rivionia Trial’ men with whom we spoke in Cape Town and a member of the Black Consciousness Movement, which Steven Biko led in the 1970’s. When he went into Robben Island, Saths couldn’t understand why these ‘old’ men were accepting of the prison rules & were working within them. The men of his generation refused to play within these rules, refused to be classified (A – D classification which allowed or disallowed certain privileges) and continuously fighting the small battles within the prison.

We were pleased to find out that, unlike the other gentlemen, Saths did remember signing the ‘bible’ and speaking with Sonny about it. As he was one of the later signatorees, he told us that he didn’t want to repeat any already chosen passage, so he found this one from ‘Hamlet’:

Act 1, scene 4, lines 17-36:
Hamlet: ‘This heavy-headed revel east and west
Makes us traduc’d and tax’d of other nations;
They clepe us drunkards, and with swinish phrase
Soil our addition; and indeed, it takes
From our achievements, though perform’d at height,
The pith and marrow of our attribute.
So, oft it chances in particular men
That, for some vicious mole of nature in them,
As in their birth, wherein they are not guilty,
Since nature cannot choose his origin;
By the o’ergrowth of some complexion,
Oft breaking down the pales and forts of reason;
Or by some habit that too much o’er leavens
The form of plausive manners – that these men,
Carrying, I say the stamp of one defect,
Being nature’s livery or fortune’s star,
His virtues else, be they as pure as grace,
As infinite as many may undergo,
Shall in the general censure take corruption
From that particular fault. The dram of eale
Doth all the noble substance of a doubt
To his own scandal.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

The Gentle Men

These three men, Kathy, Andrew & Kwede were from the start the gentlest of men. Laughing & joking amonst themselves and allowing us into their world.
The youngest of the three, Kwede, never let the other two forget that he was merely 72 years old and the other two were at least 7 years older. This was not only done jokingly, but also showed the deep respect that he had for the older men.
Kwede came to Robben Island full of hatred for the apartheid government and with white people in general. Through his education and his exposure to the older generation of Robben Islanders, he began to realize the error in his assumptions. As not all blacks are similar in their beliefs (he being of the PAC & them being of the ANC) neither are whites. He absolutely attributes this to his stay on the Island.

We are very pleased to have heard from the three of them that they would be more than happy to speak with us again before we leave to clarify and expand on the interviews. Music to our ears. Although they said that they did not feel 'prepared' for these interviews today, they spoke eloquantly about literature, Shakespeare & their stay on the island. What more could we ask for? But, they want to review their knowledge of the bard and get back in touch so that they can tell us their favourite lines from the plays. Man, I have an easy and wonderful job!!

Tomorrow, we are off to the British Council in the morning.