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Robben Island prisoner's epic autograph book

25 April, 02:06 PM

Before Surinarayan (or, Sonny) Venkatrathnam was released from Robben Island in 1977 he asked around 30 fellow inmates to sign the book he called his Bible.

In fact, the text was the Collected Works of William Shakespeare, which Venkatrathnam concealed as a holy book.

Once the tome had been passed around, it was annotated with signatures for political heavyweights like Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada.

Each fellow had signed their name and the date alongside a favourite extract of the Bard's writing.

For the 400 year anniversary of Shakespeare's death (said to be on 23  April 1616) Venkatrathnam treturned to Robben Island with the book. 

He and fellow inmate Eddie Daniels participated in a special programme recognizing the Bard's work and the special connection between Shakespeare and the lives on inmates at Robben Island prison.

Watch above.

ABOVE: Former Robben Island inmates Eddie Daniels (left) and Surinarayan Kala Venkatrathnam (right) recall their time in prison with Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada and others. They participated in a special programme on the anniversary of William Shakespeare's death on 23 April 2016.


ABOVE: Actor and dancer Owen Manamela Mogane portrays Robben Island inmate Robert Sobukwe during a special programme on the island in 2016. Dancers, actors and high school students from Vista Nova High School and Westville Boys' High participated in the day.

ABOVE: Surinaraya (or, Sonny) Venkatrathnam and Eddie Daniels (right) page through the Collecgted Works of Shakespeare. The book includes inscriptions from Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada and others who were imprisoned with them on Robben Island.

ABOVE: Sonny Venkatrathnam disguised the Collected Works of William Shakespeare as a Hindu holy book, while he was imprisoned on Robben Island in the 1970s. He asked his fellow inmates to sign the book next to their favourite passages before he was released. Since then, he and the book have travelled to Stratford on Avon and other sites for Shakespeare exhibition. 

ABOVE: Actor Vaneshran Arumugam, former inmate Sonny Venkatrathnam, Artscape creative director Mandla Mbothwe and actor Owen Manamela-Mogane at the gateway to Robben Island ahead of the special Shakespeare programme on 23 April 2016.

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