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Nelson Mandela (Madiba) & Indians in South Africa

Nelson Mandela and several prominent South African Indians enjoyed a close relationship.

For many, the two greatest freedom fighters of the 20th century are Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.


Nelson Mandela's inauguration speech given at Cape Town on May 19, 1994 begins – "Today we are entering a new era for our country and its people. Today we celebrate not the victory of a party, but a victory for all the people of South Africa."


Well before his arrest and subsequent imprisonment on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela was recorded saying: There is room for all the races in our country. Mandela's collaboration with and reaching out to other races, including men and women of Indian origin, in opposing the Apartheid laws and practices was evident from his arrival in Johannesburg from Qunu in the Eastern Cape.

Several Indian men and women in South Africa such as Ahmed Kathrada, Ismail and Amina Cachalia, Monty Naicker, Yusuf Dadoo, and Ismail and Fathima Meer had close ties with Nelson Mandela and the Struggle for Freedom in South Africa. Ahmed Kathrada Ismail Meer, and Mac Maharaj were imprisoned with Nelson Mandela. 


When Nelson Mandela was released after his long imprisonment outside the gates of Victor Verster Prison in Paarl, he was taken by the ANC's reception committee to the Grand Parade in Cape Town where he was to address the crowd that awaited the first words in 27 years from their leader. However on arrival in the square, the car carrying Mandela was mobbed by the excited crown, and it was decided to take Mandela away from the centre because of concerns for his safety. It was then that Mandela found himself in the first civilian home since his long incarceration - that of Indian political activist, Dullah Omar. At Dullah Omar's home, the Mandela was able to compose himself. The group returned to the Grand Parade over three to four hours later after a call from Desmond Tutu to the effect that Mandela should return and address the impatient crowd, and thus made his historic first public speech as a free man. Dulla Omar went on to become Minister of Justice in Nelson Mandela's cabinet when he was elected the first democratically elected president of South Africa.

LATEST: Nelson Mandela (1918-2013). Nelson Mandela dead 5 December 2013 - world hero forever!

Nelson Mandela died on Thursday, 5 December 2013 at the age of 95. He died at 20:50 with family members around him at his Houghton, Johannesburg home. President Jacob Zuma made the announcement of Madiba's death at just before midnight on Thursday, adding that Mandela would be given a state funeral, scheduled for about ten days after his passing. It has been since announced that there will be a street procession in Pretoria to the Union Buildings on Wednesday, 11 December and then Mandela's body will lie in state in the amphitheatre at the Union Buildings.  President Jacob Zuma announced to the nation that Nelson Mandela is to be given a full state funeral on Sunday, 15 December 2013, and would be laid to rest in his birthplace Qunu, Mthatha in the Eastern Cape. In an interview on Mandela's death, Professor Adam Habib, Vice Chancellor of the University of Witwatersrand said that Mandela espoused five key principles, the first being his belief in an inclusive democracy for South Africa. Habib referred to  Mandela as "A life magnificently lived...".


Dozens of international leaders and dignitaries, including US President Barack Obama, who had recently visited South Africa in June 2013 during his state visit to selected African countries, will be attending Mandela's funeral. .among the last of a generation unsullied by the trappings of power. On hearing of Mandela's passing, President, Barack Obama paid tribute to Mandela adding that Mandela had taken history into his hands.


Coincidentally the New Age reported that Madiba was being awarded the country's highest honour, the official Nelson Mandela Opus on 3 December 2013, just two days before his death on the evening of 5 December 2013. "The publication unveiled at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Houghton,  Johannesburg chronicles the life and times of the anti-apartheid icon, paying tribute to Madiba in the year of his 95th birthday, which coincides with 20 years of democracy in 2014".

Previous events leading to Nelson Mandela's death. On 27 June 2013, Nelson Mandela spent his 20th day in the MediClinic Heart hospital in Pretoria. He was admitted to the hospital on 8 June 2013. The entrance of the hospital was turned into a shrine in devotion to Madiba, adorned with flowers, balloons, cards and messages of goodwill. A group of school children from Sunnyside Primary visited the hospital, with one pupil eloquently extolling his admiration and praise for Mandela. Madiba would be 95 years of age on 18 July 2013. As the current (2013) spokesperson for President Jacob Zuma, Mac Maharaj is tasked with providing media releases on the state of health of Madiba. Even US President Barack Obama currently on  a visit to Africa (South Africa from 28 June 2013), hailed Mandela as his "personal hero". Mandela spent about three months in hospital before being taken to his Houghton home where he was given round the clock medical care until his death on 5 December 2013.

Indian film legend, Amitabh Bachchan, has reportedly ( shared his memories of meeting Mandela. "Expressing his concern for the health of the former South African president, Bachchan recalled his (two) meetings with Mandela. Writing on his blog, he said: "Nelson Mandela or 'Madiba' as he is fondly called lies critically ill in hospital in South Africa. What a man. I have met him on two occasions in his country. A most gentle, but determined human, the likes of which can be rarely found. "He fought for what he felt right and even though he was confined to a prison for almost 28 years, he came out victorious in the end."

In the month of Mandela's death (December 2013), a new film by Indian producer Anant Singh, depicting Nelson Mandela's life opened to the public on screens all over the world. The film, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Mandela is played by British actor Idris Elba and Winnie Mandela is played by British actress, Naomie Harris. Mandela's fellow prisoner and close friend Ahmed Kathrada is played by South African Indian actor and comedian, Riaad Moosa, the lead actor in the South African  movie Material, co-produced by Anant Singh with Ronnie Apteker. In the first week of its opening Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom was proclaimed a box office hit.


On June 13, 1996, President Nelson Mandela inaugurated a year-long observance of the 1946 Indian passive resistance in South Africa. Speaking at the University of Natal in Durban, he described the campaign as "an epic of our struggle for liberation" and paid tribute to Dr. G.M. Naicker, Dr. Yusuf Dadoo and other leaders of resistance. He recalled that India had raised the issue of South African racism at the United Nations, broke off economic relations with South Africa and became "a champion of the world campaign against all forms of racism".  For an article based on the introduction prepared for a souvenir book released by President Mandela on that occasion, visit:

Mac (Satyandranath) Maharaj, known as the man who smuggled Mandela's prison notes - was a leading member of MK. convicted for sabotage in 1964 and sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment. Maharaj secretly transcribed Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, and smuggled it out of prison, when released in 1976)  Check out: Ahmed Kathrada was also present during the Liliesleaf Farm raid. (For more on Ahmed Kathrada visit: .


When Nelson Mandela became the President of South Africa, he included six Indians in his cabinet.  Ismail Mahomed was appointed Chief of Justice in 1994; while the Speaker of Parliament, Frene Ginwala is of Indian descent. (A key route into the city from the east, Charles Street in Pretoria/Tshwane, has been renamed Justice Mahomed Street in May 2012. See also: Dullah Omar was appointed Minister of Justice in 1994. Visit the nobel peace prize citation, Nelson Mandela and the Rainbow of Culture,  at


A host of Indians in South Africa took up the struggle for freedom or participated in support of the freedom struggle and its leaders. Among the Indian Anti-Apartheid Activists involved in the political struggle in South Africa were:


Ahmed Kathrada (Katy): Kathrada was born in the Western Transvaal and educated in Johannesburg and at the University of the Witwatersrand. At the age of 17 he was employed on a full-time basis by the Transvaal Passive Resistance Council. He was detained for the first time in 1946 for civil disobedience. Thereafter he became Chairman of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress and helped to organise the Defiance Campaign in 1952. He was one of the 156 trialists in the 1956 Treason Trial. In 1962 he went underground as a leader of MK. He was arrested at Rivonia and sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released in 1989. In 1990 he served on the interim leadership committees of the ANC and the SACP and was elected to the ANC National Executive Council in 1991. He became an MP in 1994 and was appointed Parliamentary Councillor in the Office of the President. He was Chairperson of the Robben Island Museum Council.


Yusuf Dadoo, Dr. [1909-1983]: Medical doctor. He went underground during 1960 and then into exile to escape arrest. He was the deputy to Oliver Tambo on the Revolutionary Council of MK.


Laloo (Isu) Chiba: Platoon commander of MK. As member of MK’s Second National High Command, Chiba was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment. Released in 1982. Chiba was born and raised in Johannesburg. His interest in politics was sparked by the Treason Trial in 1956, which led to membership of the Transvaal Indian Congress, and in 1959 he joined the SACP. He joined MK in 1961 and was involved in its original sabotage units. He was arrested in 1963, released after 90 days and then went underground until his arrest in July 1964. He was tried in the "Little Rivonia" trial, convicted and imprisoned on Robben Island. In 1994 he became an ANC MP. 


Billy Nair: [1929-2008]: Member of MK. Charged with sabotage in 1963 and imprisoned at Robben Island for 20 years.


Indres Naidoo: Born into a family which has been politically active for over 100 years, Naidoo's forbears had been contemporaries of Mohandas Gandhi. Naidoo was elected to the executive of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress in 1953 and was recruited into MK in 1961. He also joined the SACP in 1961. He was arrested in 1963 and was imprisoned for 10 years on Robben Island. In 1976 he left South Africa and was sent to work in Maputo for the ANC. From 1988 to 1991 he was at the ANC office in the GDR, and only returned to South Africa in 1991.


MD Naidoo: The brother-in-law of Mac Maharaj, Naidoo was a member of the Communist Party in the 1940s and represented the Indian Congress at the United Nations. He returned to South Africa in 1956 to complete his law studies and qualified as an advocate. In 1956 he became the organiser of the South African Indian Congress (SAIC). Naidoo was arrested in the 1960s and imprisoned on Robben Island for five years.


Dullah Omar: Omar obtained his law degree at the University of Cape Town and in 1982 was admitted as an advocate. He was the Chairperson of the UDF from 1987 to 1988, and it's vice-president from 1988 to 1991. He was elected Chairperson of the Western Cape ANC in 1996 and was a member of the ANC negotiating team and the constitutional committee of the ANC in the years 1991 to 1994. From 1994 to 1999 he was Minister of Justice and from 1999 until his death in 2004 he was Minister of Transport. Dullah Omar's was the first civilian home that Nelson Mandela visited on his release in 1990.


Ismail Meer: An early member of the SACP, which he later left, Meer was involved with the Natal Teachers Union, and was secretary of the Transvaal Indian Congress. He participated in the Defiance Campaign of 1952 and was the Natal President of SACTU. He was editor of The Passive Resister.


Ismail Ayob: Ayob was born in Mafikeng, and educated there and in Pretoria. He became a Barrister at Greys Inn, London, in the late 1960s and then returned to South Africa to do his Articles and to practise as an attorney. He became Winnie Mandela's lawyer during the 1970s, and later did the same for Nelson Mandela. He was a frequent visitor to Nelson Mandela during his time in prison and became a conduit for messages between Mandela and the ANC in Zambia.


Amien Cajee: A political activist and close friend of Ahmed Kathrada, in 1962 Cajee drove Mandela across the border when he went on his tour of Africa. He worked underground with Mac Maharaj in 1963/64, and was detained at the same time as Mac in 1964. However, he was not charged but was served with a 5-year banning order. He died in 2005.


Ismail Ebrahim: Ebrahim was imprisoned on Robben Island. On release he lived in Durban but was a restricted person. He left South Africa in 1979 and went to Swaziland. After his return in 1985 he worked with the MJK (Mandla Judson Kuzwayo) Unit, but left again when he heard that the Security Police were after him. He was abducted in Swaziland by NI agents and brought back to South Africa for interrogation but was subsequently released. He became an adviser to Jacob Zuma.


Aziz Pahad: Aziz left South Africa in 1964, living mostly in London but spending time in Angola and Zimbabwe. In 1966 he started working full time for the ANC, developing the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the UK and Europe. In 1985 Pahad was elected to the NEC of the ANC. In 1990 he returned from exile and in 1991 he was appointed Deputy Head of the ANC Department of International Affairs. In 1994 he was appointed Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, which position he still holds.


Essop Pahad: Active in student politics at the University of the Witwatersrand, Pahad was a Member of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress (TIYC) Executive Committee and also served as Secretary from 1958 to 1964. He went into exile in 1964 and was involved in the leadership structures of the ANC and SACP. He graduated from the Institute of Social Science in Moscow, and completed a military course in Angola.

He served on the regional command of the ANC's Political and Military Council in London before returning to South Africa in 1990. He was a member of the Central Committee and Political Bureau of the SACP until July 2002. A member of the ANC's NEC. Pahad served as the Minister in The Presidency.


Dipak Patel: Patel joined the ANC in 1980 and was recruited into MK in 1981. He was also a member of the SACP. He did his military training both in Angola and in South Africa. He was employed as a chemical engineer by South African Breweries until 1989, at which point his time was fully taken up with his political and military activities for the ANC/MK. He was part of the Durban Regional Political Military Committee under the leadership of Pravin Gordhan, and in this way became involved in Operation Vula. He was arrested in 1990 along with the other Vula operatives.


Ivan Pillay: Born in Merebank, Durban (1953), Pillay was influenced by the Black Consciousness Movement in the 1970s and was involved in the pro-Frelimo rallies in 1975. He was part of the team that organised for Mac Maharaj to leave South Africa in 1977.

He left the country in 1977 to go to Swaziland and underwent some training in Mozambique. He then joined MK and became a member of the Internal Political Reconstruction Committee. From 1980 to 1985 he was the commander of the MJK (Mandla Judson Kuzwayo) Unit. He was also a member of the Central Committee of the SACP. A key operative in Operation Vula, taking charge of logistics, Pillay was head of the Vula establishment in Lusaka, and set up an infrastructure stretching from London to Lusaka.


Vella Pillay: A member of the Communist Party in South Africa, he moved to London and studied at the London School of Economics. He was the London-based contact for the New Age group and worked closely with the British Communist Party. He was one of the founders of the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) in England.


Anesh Sankar: Sankar was involved with the UDF and Indian structures in Natal. He then worked in Operation Vula with Pravin Gordhan and was one of the Vula accused.


Mo Shaik: Mo Shaik was an anti-apartheid student activist. In the late 1970s he became part of the newly formed MJK Unit (Mandla Judson Kuzwayo), with his brother Yunus and one other person. In the 1980s he became involved in the UDF movement. He was detained in 1985 and held in solitary confinement for nine months. He was then full time underground from 1986 to 1987. He then went for training in intelligence in the GDR and subsequently set up an intelligence unit in Natal, one of their projects being Operation Bible. He worked closely with Mac Maharaj during Operation Vula.

Shaik was employed in National Intelligence from 1994, moving to Foreign Affairs in 1997. He played a central role in the Hefer Commission in 2003. He resigned from the Department of Foreign Affairs in 2005 in order to run Nkobi Holdings.


Schabir Shaik: Elder brother of Yunus and Mo Shaik. In the 1980s he helped the ANC move money in and out of the country. Tried on corruption charges in 2004 and found guilty. Close associate of Jacob Zuma.


Yunus Shaik:  Born in Kliptown, Johannesburg, Yunus studied law at Durban/Westville University. His family were all politically conscious and in the 1980s he became involved in activities with the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) and the United Democratic Front (UDF) He then went to Swaziland in 1978/79 where he made contact with the ANC and became part of the MJK Unit under the command of Ivan Pillay. Shaik was detained in 1980 under the Terrorism Act and was sent to Modderfontein Prison, where he received a broad ANC education from other prisoners. He was detained again in 1985, along with his brother Mo.


Debi Singh: Singh became secretary of the Anti-Segregation Council in the mid-1940s working with Yusuf Dadoo and G. M. Naicker. In 1946 he was secretary of the Passive Resistance Council of the Natal Indian Congress(NIC). He was imprisoned during the resistance movement of 1946 and was arrested again during the Defiance Campaign of 1952. An advocate of closer African and Indian cooperation, he was among the Indian leaders of the Congress Alliance who were charged with treason in December 1956. He was banned again and then imprisoned during the 1960 emergency. He died in 1970.


Zak Yakoob: Yacoob became an advocate in Durban in the mid 1970s. He represented Siphiwe Nyanda at the Vula case in 1990. He was appointed as a Judge of the Constitutional Court.


Mohamed Valli Moosa: Valli Moosa was born in Johannesburg (1957). He joined the Black Consciousness Movement in 1976 and became an active member of SASO. He was also a founder member of the Transvaal Indian Congress in 1983. Moosa served as Transvaal General Secretary of the UDF in 1983 and was a member of its National Executive Committee.

Moosa was detained in 1980, 1988 and again 1989. After the UDF had been dissolved he was elected to the National Executive Committee of the ANC and took over their negotiations portfolio. He was an ANC representative at CODESA in working group 2. In 1994 he was appointed Deputy Minister of Constitutional and Provincial Affairs, taking over as Minister when Roelf Meyer resigned. He was placed in charge of the Masakhane Campaign. Moosa became Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism from 1999 to 2004, after which he retired from active politics.


Monty (DR. G M) Naiker:  He was President of the Natal Indian Congress. Part of 'The Doctors' Pact' with Yusuf Dadoo and A B Zuma, who was President of the ANC, in 1947.


Pravin Gordhan was born in Durban. He was elected to Executive Council of the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) in 1974. During the 1970s he became associated with the African National Congress (ANC) and later the South African Communist Party (SACP).

He was detained in Durban in 1985 in terms of Section 29 of the Internal Security Act and the following year he was forced to go underground. He remained in hiding until his arrest in 1990, when he was named as a key figure in the ANC underground network, Operation Vula. In 1991 he was granted indemnity.

Gordhan was involved in CODESA and in the multi-party negotiation process. He became an MP for the ANC in 1994. He was also a member of the Constitutional Committee of the Constituent Assembly and was elected to the SACP's Central Committee. He served as Commissioner of the South African Revenue Service before being appointed Minister of Finance in Zuma's cabinet.

Extracts from:


Among the first group of ANC comrades released from Robben  Island in December 1973 and early 1974 with Jacob Zuma were Sunny Singh, Kisten Moonsamy and Roy Padayachie.


Higher Than Hope, the biography of Nelson Mandela was written by Fathima Meer, Mandela's friend and biographer. Mandela himself penned Long Walk to Freedom, an autobiography, mostly while in prison on Robben Island. Film producer, Anant SIngh made the Box Office hit Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, that went on cinema screens in the same month as Mandela's death in December 2013.


Late ANC MP, Radhakrishna Lutchmana (Roy) Padayachie died on 4 May 2012,while still in the post of Minister of of Public Service and Administration. Roy Padayachie was part of a pioneering group of political activists and supporters of the Freedom Charter and and Congress Movement according to Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. Padayachie was instrumental in building the profile of the ANC through the Natal Indian Congress (NIC) and the United Democratic Front (UDF).

Recognising other Indian Activists involved in the Freedom Struggle:

Lenny Naidu, anti-apartheid activist and a member of the African National Congress and member of the military wing of the ANC, Umkonto we Sizwe (MK), fled South Africa and went into hiding in Swaziland. While he and 8 women Cadres were re-entering South Africa via Piet Retief, they were ambushed by security forces- all nine were ambushed and killed. He was 24 at the time of his death. He joined the ANC and MK while studying for his final year of a BA degree at the then University of Durban-Westville, before dropping out to join MK.

On 24 April 2012, Lenny Naidu’s family received the ANC’s centenary flame at their home in Chatsworth, south of Durban. Mkhize and health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo who was also at the flame ceremony, knew Lenny personally as they were all in the same MK cell in Operation Butterfly. Mkhize said : “The contribution of the well-known leaders who hail from the Indian Diaspora is well documented. Lenny Naidu is one of the national heroes whose contribution is now part of a very proud history of our country". The handing of the flame is part of the ANC’s 100 years celebration and commemorates those who sacrificed their lives for the liberation of the country.

Additional information:


The Robben Island Bible of Sonny Venkatrathnam

What has been dubbed, the Robben Island Bible, but was in fact a disguised copy of Shakespeare’s collected works, will be on display at the British Museum as part of their ‘Shakespeare: Staging the world’ exhibition, that runs from 19 July  to 25 November 2012.

During a period of intense censorship Sonny Venkatrathnam had requested his wife, Theresa, to buy the collection of literary works penned by the Bard so that he could read while a prisoner of the Apartheid government.

Sonny Venkatrathnam, then a member of the Unity Movement, was arrested and charged under the country’s Terrorism Act for his activism against the apartheid government He was jailed in the 1970s. Sonny started serving his sentence in Leeuwkop Prison in Johannesburg before being moved to Robben Island. On Robben Island, he was faced with the arduous but senseless task of breaking stones ..."big stones to small stones and at the end of the day the water would wash it away”. Seeking some form of intellectual stimulation, Venkatrathnam had asked warders for access to books, and was told that he could purchase just one.

“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. An English major at university, Sonny said, “It’s a problem to have one book and the only thing I could think of that would keep me going was ‘Shakespeare, Complete Works’ so I got that.” The English scholar in him probably made the most logical choice to “ last a long time”: The Collected Works of William Shakespeare. The book was brought to Sonny in prison in 1972. At the time, prisoners were not allowed any reading material and even personal letters from family were heavily censored or even withheld altogether. Once in, the works of Shakespeare became an invaluable commodity within the prison walls, and shared among freedom fighters such as Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada and others.

His wife Theresa, had to keep the family together, just managing to scrape by through working for then lawyer Navi Pillay, who is now the UN High Commissioner for human rights. Theresa managed to scrape together the money, buy the book and send it to the island.

But as conditions in the prison worsened all books except religious texts were forbidden. However, the book was confiscated within weeks. His book was taken away and placed in a storeroom. Then one Sunday, when religious services were held at the prison as usual, a warder told Sonny to get his Bible. Sonny replied that he had left it in the storeroom. He was allowed inside the storeroom and grabbed his book from the shelf, telling the warder: “See the bible by William Shakespeare.” His audacious plan had worked, but now he had to devise a means of keeping the book in his possession.

According to Venkatrathnam, by calling it his “Bible” the warders would not touch it.  And so the Robben Island “Bible” was born.  His fellow inmates then came up with a plan to protect his “bible”. His family, who were Hindu, had sent him Deepavali greeting cards, and Venkatrathnam and his inmates covered the “Bible” with the Deepavali cards, depicting Hindu gods, and plastic to disguise it. The cover is graced with the colourful images of Lord Ram and Sita.

The book was read by many of the inmates and when he was due to be released Venkatrathnam sent it to his comrades and friends in prison and asked them to sign the passages which they found most meaningful or enjoyed the most. Inmates would read sections of Shakespeare, date and sign the snippets that had meaning for them.

Nelson Mandela, Mac Maharaj, Raymond Mhlaba, Billy Nair, Govan Mbeki, Mobbs Gqirana, JB Vusani, Frank Anthony and Andrew Masondo are among those who signed the book. There are 32 signatures in total. This secret copy was passed around, read and cited, with passages underlined and shared between inmates: Julius Caesar is the most annotated play in the Robben Island Shakespeare; Mandela wrote his name next to Caesar’s lines, ‘cowards die many times before their deaths/The valiant never taste of death but once’ – according to Mandela’s official biographer, Anthony Sampson, Mandela chose this passage as his favourite.

The most popular choices for the 32 prisoners who highlighted their favourite passages in Shakespeare’s collected works were from Hamlet, King Lear, Julius Caesar, The Tempest and As you Like it. Mandela and other prominent leaders of the African National Congress, such as Thabo Mbeki and Chris Hani, quoted frequently from Shakespeare in their speeches after they returned from exile in 1990 ahead of South Africa’s first democracy elections in 1994.

Anthony Sampson, Mandela’s official biographer, noted that for the second half of the last century, Shakespeare’s plays were one of the main influences on the liberation movement and its leaders.

"Shakespeare became more politically relevant than the Bible or Marx," the late Sampson wrote in 2001. "Successive generations of African leaders saw his plays as an inspiration for their struggle and for humanity."

Futhermore, the unique literary insight into the anti-apartheid fight is captured in academic Ashwin Desai’s book launched on Robben Island on 25 June 2012, titled Reading Revolution, Shakespeare on Robben Island, which was inspired by Venkatrathnam’s prized volume. “I realised that this wasn’t just signing a book. Several of the Robben Island prisoners were in attendance. Ahmed Kathrada, Saths Cooper, Marcus Solomon, Monde Mkunqwana, Ashwill Adrian, Dr Sedick Isaacs and Thoko Didiza, the former minister of land affairs and agriculture, were just some of the struggle activists who gathered on Robben Island yesterday for the launch. “These people thought about Shakespeare, they read Shakespeare, they were imbued with the sense of Shakespeare as they read it back onto local struggles,” said Desai.

Venkatrathnam’s story and the book have taken him and his wife to many places, even to Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare, where Venkatrathnam sat in the Bard’s “hard chair” and read from his “Bible” and shared his story after an invitation from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Recently the British Museum asked Sonny if it could borrow the book from July 19 to November 25, 2012 for its Shakespeare exhibition as part of its contribution to the London Cultural Olympiad of 2012. Venkatrathnam said: “Somehow Shakespeare always seemed to have something to say to us… He’s a universal philosopher; there’s a message for anyone and anybody.” British actor/playwright Matthew Hahn has also written and performed a play, The Robben Island Bible, on the book.Robben Island: Nelson Mandela’s handwritten memoirs were smuggled off Robben Island by released prisoners among them, Mac Maharaj, 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.

Compiled with extracts from,, and


Nelson Mandela recognition awards:


Nelson Mandela Road was named in New Delhi, India, 10 December 1988.


Nelson Mandela is one of the recipients of Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award of India (October 1990)


This was followed by Pakistan, which conferred the Nishan-e-Pakistan, on Nelson Mandela on 3 October 1992.


Nelson Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.


Mandela was presented with the Gandhi-King Award by the World Movement for Nonviolence at the World Parliament of Religions, Cape Town, 5 December 1999.


Mandela was awarded the International Gandhi Peace Prize, at the Presidential Palace, New Delhi, on 16 March 2001.


In November 2009, the United Nations General Assembly announced that Mandela's birthday, 18 July, is to be known as 'Mandela Day' marking his contribution to world freedom.


More more, visit:


Note: The Nelson Mandela Digital Archive launched on the internet in March 2012, is available at: (Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory and Google SA.)


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