A story of courage

2008-12-03 00:00

books by struggle icons can be intimidating with countless pages, but A Simple Freedom by former Robben Island inmate Ahmed Kathrada manages a balance between the written word and illustrations, making it an easy read.

From his early incarceration, detention, the trial and subsequent arrival at Robben Island in the winter, the writer effortlessly takes the reader with him by giving a concise description of each of the unpleasant episodes which the political prisoners would have to endure.

The reader also gets a glimpse of how far the apartheid government was prepared to play the race card as a means of dividing comrades who came from different racial backgrounds, this being illustrated in clothing items that were given to inmates. Black prisoners, including Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, were given shorts while Kathrada and white prisoners could wear long pants.It is a book about courage at a time when many would have struggled to find it, especially when facing condemnation in the form of life imprisonment by a ruthless state machinery that was willing to go to extremes in order to break the prisoners.

The descriptions of the prison setup and the condition of each cell enables one to appreciate the almost unbearable conditions that the political prisoners had to endure.

The book perhaps illustrates the ability to use the minimum resources available to tackle the situation at hand. It may be a book about life in prison but at the same time prison could be a metaphor for any challenge that one may encounter in life.

The book underlines the importance of basic structures in one’s life — family, friends and the community — and how these come in handy during times of need.

The book, which also has some of Kathrada’s favourite quotations, shows that while the writer may have been an avid reader he was equally an observer who was taught to value, and continues to value, the simple things in life. It is a reminder that one can be inspired from reading scripts by intellectual giants, but equally, inspiration can be drawn from ordinary people.

Bheki Mbanjwa

• The Durban launch of A Simple Freedom takes place at 5.30 pm today at the Hellenic Community Centre in Umgeni Park, Durban North. The book is now available in bookshops and is on the Exclusive Books 2008 List.

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