Thursday, 2 February 2012

RIB Education Outreach / Workshops - Social Change, Citizenship & Leadership

One of the key aspects that has always been embedded in this project is the ability for Shakespeare & the former political prisoners to educate and spark debate in today's young people [and those not so young as well].

As a part of my next trip to South Africa, I hope to meet with the Department of Basic Education of South Africa to gauge their interest in using the play as a part of their curriculum especially in the area of Citizenship, Leadership and Social Change. It would be wonderful to use the Robben Island Bible as a starting point to discuss these themes with young people. I am currently developing schemes of work & lesson plans that are built aound the chosen quotes & the interviews:

Ahmed Kathrada chose Henry V's
'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-favour'd rage ....'

- Leading by example by putting himself into the fight; putting himself among his soldiers rather than in front of or behind; listening to his soldiers before delivering his address.... All qualities of a good leader.

Nelson Mandela chose Julius Caesar's
'Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard.
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

- An able general; a good judge of character.... Again, all excellent qualities in a leader.

For the creation of this play, I have interviewed MPs, ANC National Executive Committee members, contributors to the development of democratic South Africa and others whose imprint on today's South Africa is enormous. From these most humble of men, gems of great leadership qualities, the importance of citizenship and one's ability to make positive social change were at the forefront of every interview.

What a wonderful opportunity to use the former political prisoner's chosen quotes along with the transcripts of these great leaders. It would be a great honour for me to use the play in this way. I hope that it would also be an honour to the men whom have shared so much with me and who fought so hard for a democratic South Africa.

Part of the discussion in a workshop would be the learners performing selections from the play. In particular, I'd like them to look at the following sections where the characters unpack their chosen quotes:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

My background is one of being illiterate. When I get to prison, I had a Standard 6 education and had never heard of Shakespeare. My first degree on Robben Island is my 'third degree' interrogation by the security police! But when I am allowed to study on Robben Island, it is the first time that I encountered Shakespeare and I also get two academic degrees. Part of my syllabus is to know certain aspects of Shakespeare - Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, and others. To me, Shakespeare is a voyage of discovery. It is the first time I read plays, poems and poetry with such depth, and I am really, really in awe. As a matter of fact, on one occasion we put on Julius Caesar and I play the role of Marc Anthony. This to me is a big voyage of discovery. But Shakespeare, in spite of my shallow understanding of blank verse and poetry and plays, I find gripping. I find it embracing. And I choose this passage from Macbeth, when many other passages I perhaps could have chosen, but I love Macbeth, because it is so true. In the final analysis, we all strive to build up our little kingdoms, with our families, do the best for our families and try and do the best for our country. But in 50 years' time, we are no more, we're forgotten. You take people like Julius Caesar, he's still remembered. But how many other people with Julius Caesar are remembered? In time to come, Julius Caesar too will be forgotten. And that is life. We only have the greats, who are remembered. Jesus, Moses, Winston Churchill, Herr Hitler. And of course Shakespeare. You remember these people because of the highlights. But can you imagine all the other millions of people who passed away unnoticed? But in their own light, in their own right, they had also a little kingdom to look after. Of course life contains many brave episodes. And each father to his family is a hero. Each mother to her family is a heroine. And the children are precious jewels to their parents. But the cycle of life goes on. Birth and death, and death, and birth, goes on. And after a time it just, is, forgotten. And that is our life. And from babyhood you go through life, battling, struggling. Getting married, getting degrees. Getting a big bank balance. And then we leave the earth as we came in, with nothing. With nothing. With nothing. And this passage is so true. And Shakespeare could portray the insignificance of man. That we are just mere mortals. Eventually we'll turn to dust, and the world will not remember us. Whilst we are living, we are full of pomp and ceremony, and trying to impress the world. But in the final analysis, we are nothing. (Pause – signs & dates the 'bible')
Eddie Daniels, December 1978. (to Sony as he passes him the 'bible') I hope that you won't consider this as a 'tale told by an idiot'.
Not at all.


Theo passes the 'Bible' to Michael Dingake

That’s Polonius, that’s me yea? (laughing)

‘Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion’d thought his act.’

Now, before you act – think about something properly. Don’t act what you’re thinking before you have to be really certain to what the repercussions might be. When I was arrested, I was really prepared, you know, psychologically wise. Anything could happen to me, even if I was killed. I was prepared for all of that.

‘Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul
with hoops of steel.’

You see, true friends – you have to be certain now that this one is true. And I think, you see, I am good at that personally. There are a few guys, you know, I could say now, ‘This one will never betray me.’ Now those you ‘grapple’ you see? Soul, yea, with hoops of steel.

‘Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.’

Now, ah, this is important for, well, politicians in particular (laughing). You have to listen to other people…But sometimes you have to be careful what you, you, say. If, for instance you say, ‘I agree with you. I agree with what you say’ …. you may be committing yourself unnecessarily because conditions may arise where you disagree. Think carefully about everything. I suppose that this is what Polonius is actually saying.

‘Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;’

Personally, that’s a weakness that I have (laughing). About how to dress. I am very found of, well, fashion. I am always among the trend setters.

‘For the apparel oft proclaims the man;’

I don’t know how the apparel proclaims me (laughing).
But this,
‘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 man.’

This is really loaded with what we all should know - how as human beings, you know, to conduct ourselves. But it also means, you must really always think before you do. Before you plunge into anything, think carefully. (Pause – signs & dates the 'bible') Michael Dingake, 1 / 3 / 78.

Michael passes the 'Bible' to Kwede Mkalipi

Well, ah, if I were to come in, I will also quote the same man Shakespeare. This Macbeth always had a profound meaning to me. The passage I like very much is the one when Lady Macbeth, after Macbeth has done everything wrong, comes out and then says, she says, 'All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.' And that sigh that says, 'Oh, oh, oh.' And then another person says, 'Oh, what a sigh is there! The heart is sorely charg’d.' Even the very opening, 'So foul & fair, they have never seen.' Apartheid is done to the people of South Africa and, just like Lady Macbeth, this system cannot be purified. She says, ' All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand,' it means then that the damage that is done by the system of Apartheid cannot be repaid. (pause) You know, when I went to jail, and ah, I really hated the white man because of this system. But when I came /
Kathrada (turning in from another cell):
He hated the white man, He hated the white man (puts hand on Kwede) /
When I came in contact ah / This guy (gently taps Kathrada’s hand)....
Because he is PAC /
.... Yea... Because I'm PAC /


Sonny and his ‘bible’ find me here in 1972 and then leave me here in 1978. I choose Sonnet 122 because it philosophises about the brain, you know, thinking, you know. It conveys something which is perhaps tangible & understood. All friends, comrades so on and so forth in the Struggle, suffer under the nose of Apartheid regime. They do not consider those of us in the Struggle smart, particularly the black people. The whole world does not believe, they are always told lies by the South African government, that ‘No blacks will never take over,’ see?’ For all these years, whites never believe it. They think that we’ve got no brains. They think that we’ve got grass or soil or whatever in the brain. They do not that think, ‘They could do something.’

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.

In revolutionary struggle, there is indeed some that don’t finish it. They change. Along the road. Maybe because of conditions, you know. But some, they remain. Like we do. So that is why I also chose Sonnet 123 – to remain true to the course forever, come what may.

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.

The African National Congress did not want the armed struggle; they wanted to sit down and discuss, on the table. But, eh, the government, they just put their foot down. We are more like the slaves that had been taken from Africa to Europe & America because we don’t have any rights. See? Our rights are denied. See? (pause) Are really denied. You know by 1960, the first cadre of the African National Congress went out to go train. We think perhaps that we might have some friends in Africa and we did, but it was not sufficient enough – ‘cause the African states are being undermined by Verwoerd’s government & Forster’s government. We remain true to the cause forever, come what may. I think that the intensive training that we do is a very great achievement after suffering a lot… See? We are proud about that. We are proud about the cadres of the people of South Africa, particularly the blacks. (Pause – signs & dates both passages in the 'bible') Theo Cholo, December 1978.

Apartheid Explained:

Dinner in prison – Prisoners back into their cells. Under the following
dialogue, warders come around distributing the food according to race. Prisoners button their coats, take off their caps and stand at attention. Once the warders leave, Sonny take his bread and, in a repetition of the disguising of the ‘Bible’ scene, distribute it by cutting one slice of bread into several pieces.

Sonny (to the audience):
Apartheid on Robben Island, like the rest of South Africa, is applied in gradations. On top of the ladder are the whites, with privileges and rights. But white prisoners are not with us. Immediately under them are the Indians and Coloured; and the bottom of the ladder are the Africans or blacks. Your diet depended on whether or not you were an Indian, African or Coloured. On the island, Indians and Coloureds get a slice of bread every day, a tablespoon of sugar and some powered milk. Africans are not given any bread. Only on a Saturday will they get a slice of bread.

Kathrada (to the audience):
We pool all of our food together so in that way everyone is able to have a taste of bread. We cut them in quarters and rotate. We have a roster. The only day that I have a full slice is on a Saturday because everybody else has some. So a lot of things were different according to racial groups. In every respect, the Africans have the worst of it – outside and inside of prison.
When I landed on Robben Island – they brought us here by plane –we landed chained and shackled. I am shackled to Govan Mbeki, who is 20 years my senior. When we change into prison clothes, because he is an African, he has to wear short trousers, a cloth hat, sandals, no socks. I am given long trousers, socks, a felt hat and shoes. The rational behind short trousers is ‘All Africans, regardless of age, are ‘boys’ or ‘girls.’ So you had little children talking about ‘My garden boy.’ ‘My kitchen girl.’ Regardless of age. And boys wear short trousers. (pause) All of our leaders, because they are African, are ‘boys’…. I don’t know…the minds that invent this type of thing.

Other potential sources for ‘Leadership’ qualities:
Public Speeches – Mandela’s ‘Speech from the Dock’

Other potential sources for ‘Apartheid Explained’ for contextual history:
‘Good neighbour Policy’ speech - Hendrik Verwoerd
‘Separate Development’ speech - Hendrik Verwoerd