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:

[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 for further details.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

South Africa's heritage can boost unity

IMC-EC0-00433GLiving heritage could help to promote a positive African identity in a globalising world, Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa said at the official National Heritage Day celebration held in Limpopo on 24 September.

One nation

"We are called upon as a nation to embrace each other's cultures, to practise each other's cultures, to learn and understand each other's languages, so that we can speedily increase the cohesion that we are trying to build," he said.

This year's Heritage Day had the theme "Our indigenous knowledge, our heritage: towards the identification, promotion and preservation of South Africa's living heritage". "We have rich diversity and culture. Let us display to the world that indeed we are a cohesive, one nation," he said.

Song and dance

Heritage Day was observed with colourful traditional clothing and performances across South Africa and by South Africans across the world.

In London, High Commissioner Obed Mlaba welcomed guests to South Africa House and in his address said “living heritage plays an important role in promoting cultural diversity social cohesion and reconciliation, peace and economic development.”

The High Commissioner said “It is important for South Africans to reclaim, restore and preserve our living heritage.”

The event included a diverse panel discussion with Roland Azor a South African Diversity consultant based in Brighton, Souleyman Garcia, who has made programmes filmed in South Africa, Njabulo Madlala, a dynamic South African baritone singer based in London who runs an annual singing competition in South Africa under his Amazwi Omzansi Africa banner, Angela Harvey, a teacher, facilitator, mentor, Film Maker, Performance Poet and Singer, Matthew Hahn, whose play, The Robben Island Bible has been performed in the UK, US and South Africa and who has recently facilitated a pilot 'Ethical Leadership' workshop in Soweto and Catherine Elliot a South African who is writing a thesis based on her ongoing research into the South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland collections at the British Museum. The dialogue was fascilitated by Makeda Coaston, a strong champion for cultural equity in the arts and heritage sectors.

The event was rounded off by a musical performance and guests mingled into the afternoon.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Global Shakespeare launched at the Barbican

globalshakespeareClick here to listen to a podcast with Professor David Schalkwyk on the Robben Island Shakespeare

Queen Mary University of London and University of Warwick last night (13 November) launched Global Shakespeare at a sold out event at the Barbican. The event included a reading of Matthew Hahn’s play, the Robben Island Bible, based on passages chosen from a copy of Shakespeare’s complete works by the prisoners on Robben Island, South Africa.

A research and teaching collaboration, Global Shakespeare aims to shape the future agenda in Shakespeare studies across criticism, performance, history, media and popular culture.

Global Shakespeare critically explores and celebrates how Shakespeare’s work is translated, adapted and performed in other cultures. Global Shakespeare Director, Professor David Schalkwyk says that the partnership is fundamentally about challenging the notion that “Shakespeare belongs to a single language, culture or people”.

“Whether London or Lahore, we aim to shine a light on the truly global nature of Shakespeare’s work. It is our belief that there is no pure or true way to interpret or perform Shakespeare’s text. The meaning and understanding of his work is culturally specific, and Global Shakespeare seeks to understand and celebrate that reality,” said Professor Schalkwyk.

Current Global Shakespeare initiatives include a collaboration with the People’s Palace Projectson Shakespeare in Brazil; a partnership with Dash Arts on a multi-lingual production of King Lear; a celebration in 2016 of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth; and the 500th anniversary of the Venetian Ghetto.

According to Jerry Brotton, QMUL Professor of English and Associate Director of Global Shakespeare, the project “will make it possible to see Shakespeare in his world and ours. Our research, teaching, and public engagement will help us understand the translation of Shakespeare’s work from the Globe to countries, cultures and communities all over the world. Our ambition is unique, as is our scale: no other project brings together such a diverse group of scholars and students working on the global and intercultural nature of Shakespeare.”

Upcoming international activities include a 2016 conference on Global Shakespeare with the University of Cape Town, a 2015 exhibition and series of performances in London of the British Black and Asian Shakespeare’s Multi-Cultural Shakespeare: 1930-2010, and a 2015 symposium on Shakespeare in China.

Future research projects include the use of Shakespeare to investigate the history of the emotions; an extensive “connected communities” project to explore Shakespeare, human rights and areas of conflict; and a series of performance-based workshops with translators to forge closer links between translators, actors and scholars.

Sources: and

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Casting Announcement - The Robben Island Bible at the Barbican

On 13 November, a short extract from The Robben Island Bible will be held at the Barbican Theatre in London as part of the opening of the Global Shakespeare Centre at Queen Mary's University, London.

I am pleased to announce that Maryam Hamdi will be joining the reading again after her performance in Glasgow as part of the opening of the Commonwealth Games in July.  Joining Maryam will be actors Richard Peppple and  Waleed Akhtar.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Global Shakespeare will launch on 13th November

Queen Mary University of London and the University of Warwick will launch Global Shakespeare at The Barbican, London on Thursday 13th November at 6.00pm. This collaboration aims to transform the research agenda on Shakespeare for the 21st Century by exploring the writer’s extraordinary dissemination and appropriation in cultures and languages across the world, in text, performance, film and new media.
Opening addresses by Professor Jonathan Bate, Provost of Worcester College, University of Oxford and Professor David Schalkwyk, Academic Director for Global Shakespeare.

There will be a play reading from Matthew Hahn’s play, The Robben Island Bible, based on the copy of Shakespeare signed by apartheid prisoners on Robben Island (including Nelson Mandela), and featured in the British Library exhibition, “Shakespeare—Staging the World” in 2012.

Formal proceedings will be following by a drinks reception in the Conservatory Terrace. The event will conclude at 8.00pm.

If you are interested in attending please register your attendance using the following link:

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Opening up the Robben Island Bible

12 September 2014

Last month, the APC’s special event, ‘A Conversation on The Robben Island Bible’, attracted a large audience and lively debate. We felt especially honoured to welcome ex-prisoners, Khwedi Mkhaliphi, who attended with his wife, Ruth Mkhaliphi, the artist Lionel Davis (also a formerly banned person) and Yasien Mohamed. Both Davis and Mohamed are well-known tour guides on Robben Island. The event was organised and chaired by APC Honorary Research Fellow, Dr June Bam.
The presentation evolved around the play, The Robben Island Bible, by British playwright and lecturer at St Mary’s University in London, Matthew Hahn. Hahn also presented video clips of the interviews he did with former political prisoners of the Island, as well as clips of staged readings of scenes from his play. These included the passages of Shakespeare’s Complete Works, which were marked by the prisoners as meaningful for them, on request of Sonny Venkatrathnam. The book was brought to Venkatrathnam by his wife, Theresa, during his time of incarceration. While on the Island, he disguised it as a ‘religious book’ with Hindu religious motifs pasted onto it. According to Venkatrathnam, the warders feared two things: ‘the authorities, and God’. Hahn introduced his work in conversation with Robben Island CEO Sibongiseni Mkhize, and global Shakespeare scholar David Schalkwyk.
In recalling his ‘first encounter’ with the book, Hahn recollected the detail of the scent of eucalyptus leaves that emanated from between the pages, carrying the trace and scent of the Island. Speaking of the often controversial memories the interviews with ex-political prisoners brought to the fore, Hahn said that the genre of drama is especially able to embrace the multidirectional and, at times, conflicting memories of the ex-political prisoners – ‘since this is (also) what makes a good drama.’
Hahn sees the book as a repository of traces, resonating with hints of the thoughts and concerns of the prisoners at specific moments in time, which he then translated into the staged readings, which we viewedviewed – for instance, SB Benghu’s choice of a passage in Henry V that speaks of tolerance, of different elements that constitute a whole, or Chuk Iwuji’s reading of Wilton Mkwayi’s choice of Malvolio’s utterances from Twelfth Night. At the APC event, Khwedi Mkalipi read his selection of Puck from A MidsummerNight’s Dream
Of course, Nelson Mandela’s choice was included in the clips, which, as we hear it today, resounds profoundly with his Rivonia Trial speech:
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.
The CEO of Robben Island Museum, Sibongiseni Mkhize, drew the audience’s attention to the question of how we think of and represent Robben Island today, especially in the light of the deeper history of the Island: ‘Robben Island is not reducible to the Robben Island of the political prisoners under apartheid,’ he said, and spoke of the Island’s first-known political prisoner, the Khoisan leader and interpreter, Autshumao. He also spoke of the location’s history as a place of banishment for people infected with leprosy, and as a place of exile for early political prisoners, including women (such as the Khoisan interpreter, Krotoa), and unwanted persons as far back as the 17th century; of Imam Sayed Abdurahman Moturu, who was exiled to the Island in the 1740s, and imprisoned religious and political leaders from the Eastern Cape during the Frontier Wars of the 19th century – including the much revered Xhosa prophet and leader, Nxele Makana, who drowned while trying to escape with others from the Island.
Mkhize reminded us that, even when speaking of the recent past, we often exclude political prisoners, like Robert Sobukwe, but also internees from Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique. Who, he asked, is honoured as a political prisoner today? In illustrating this point, he drew attention to the large number of detainees under apartheid, many of whom (women and white male political prisoners) were not incarcerated on the Island but on the mainland. Mkhize’s insightful interventions led to a robust discussion of the politics of representation.
The second respondent, David Schalkwyk, distinctively put into perspective the meaning of the ‘Robben Island Bible’ for the political prisoners: firstly, he made clear that it does not appear in any of the memoirs of the political prisoners he knows. Secondly, he recalled the position of an ANC politician, who asserted that the prisoners at the time were: ‘inspired by the Freedom Charter, not by Shakespeare…’
Lionel Davis, who has been a visitors’ guide at Robben Island’s educational centre for many years, asked: ‘What do young South Africans take from the Island?’ He posed a further related question as to whether this World Heritage Site was still an important point of identification for young South Africans.
In answer to this, Khwedi Mkhaliphi spoke of the past struggle as an anchor for identification, of the bravery, faith, deprivation of the prisoners, of ‘not reading the newspaper, not knowing what was happening in the country and in the world’. He also pointed to the role of women in the struggle, as fighters, yet also as the wives and girlfriends of those confined to the Island; of these women being followed and spied on. ‘How come [is it],’ he asked, ‘that now the only person who played a role in the struggle [at least in international discourses] is Mandela?’
Hopefully, as Hahn’s staged readings and play circulate, it will become clearer and clearer to audiences around the world that this was not the reality of South Africa’s broad-based struggle against the injustices of apartheid.  

Monday, 22 September 2014

Video of reading at Michael Oak School, Cape Town presented by The Shakespeare Society of South Africa (Cape Town branch).

Here is the link to the reading performed on 22 August at Michael Oak School, Cape Town presented by The Shakespeare Society of South Africa (Cape Town branch).  Maurice Podbrey produced and cast the play.  Actors were Vaneshran Arumugam, Andile Nebulane, Andrew Roux & Chi Mhende.  It was attended by students from Michael Oak School, Bergvliet High, Constantia Waldorf and Stellenbosch Waldorf Schools.