Friday 6 December 2013: The Robben Island Bible
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.
Julius Caesar 2.2.32-7
When the political prisoner Sonny Venkatrathnam was allowed one book on Robben Island, he chose a copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare as he would be able to read it over and over again. He disguised it as his Bible in a cover of Deepavali cards and shared it with many of the inmates. On occasion the prisoners gathered clandestinely to read the plays. When he was about to be released he circulated it amongst his friends asking them to sign the passages which they found most meaningful or enjoyed the most. Nelson Mandela's signature is beside this passage, a quote he frequently used.
I liked hearing on the Today programme that whenever Milton Nkosi, the BBC correspondent, met him Nelson Mandela would ask "Do you remember me?"