Justine Gerardy Explores the Reading Culture on Robben Island
Following the publication of Ashwin Desai’s book on the reading culture amongst the prisoners on Robben Island, titled Reading Revolution: Shakespeare on Robben Island, Justine Gerardy has written a feature on the topic.
Gerardy spoke to several of the former prisoners and found out about their experiences with books on the island:
Nelson Mandela’s handwritten memoirs were smuggled off South Africa’s Robben Island to become an international bestseller after his release from 27 years in apartheid jail.
The manuscript’s risky passage is just one of the extraordinary journeys of the island’s books and the lengths taken to obtain, protect and share them in cells where learning and reading were celebrated.
“We weren’t allowed any reading material and I applied for permission to go to the library. They refused and eventually they agreed for me to have one book,” recalled Sonny Venkatrathnam who was jailed in the 1970s.