Tuesday, 10 November 2009
Sonny Venkatratham was a South African political prisoner held on Robben Island in the 1970’s. The Robben Island Bible is based on his copy of ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare’ and interviews with several political prisoners who were also held there. Venkatratham smuggled his copy of the ‘Complete Works’ into the prison by persuading his warders that it was a religious Hindu ‘Bible.’ He then surreptitiously passed the book to a number of his fellow political prisoners in the single cells. 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. These men signed passages within the text, which they found particularly moving, meaningful and profound. The selection of text provides fascinating insight into the minds, thinking and soul of those political prisoners who fought for the transformation of South Africa. It also speaks to the power of Shakespeare’s resonance with the human spirit regardless of place or time.