ROBBEN ISLAND HELL-HOLE: REMINISCENCES OF A POLITICAL PRISONER IN SOUTH AFRICA
From amongst the budding crop of talented writers in Azania (South Africa), Moses Dalmini has produced one of the best accounts of the harsh realities of the Black man's life in that tortured country. Encapsulated in an account of his imprisonment on the infamous Robben Island, he has captured in a gripping and enraging account all the violence, brutality, degradation and dehumanisation of a colonialism and racialism that could only be viewed as something absurd, even comic, were it not for the horrendous distortions that it wrought in the lives both of the victims and its perpetrators. His story of the brutalities underlines the central dilemma of the black-white relationship; on the one hand, of a racialism so blind in its fury and hatred that it can only devour itself as his story shows; and on the other of a people driven to the depths of despair and yet spurred to revolutionary struggle by a simple yearning for dignity and compassion.
Prison in the conditions of oppression in a acountry like South Africa- as indeed in most third World countries - is a place where you are stripped of every vestige of human dignity - debased, demoralosed, dehumanised, so that your spirit is broken to accept the perverted logic of the oppressor. It's like being locked in the same room forever with a torturer whose untrammelled powers of hate and contempt degrade you with every concevable human atrocity. Such was Robben Island - 11 kilometers in the Atlantic off Cape Town, mostly of a sandy surface.
But the events on the Island duplicated what took place in the ordinary, everyday life in the ramshackle and dilapidated little boxes called houses in shanty towns like Soweto. The flashbacks to his life in the townships with its attendant poverty, misery and ever lurking insecurities and anxieties show the continuum between the daily occurrence and prison conditions. A continuous cycle for even after release from prison, you are banned, hounded, circumscibed to vegetate on some barren veld on the flimsiest manufactured charge. In the end you are forced into exile.
Written in simple and direct prose, in a uniquely South African style, Moses allows the story to flow out of him. He is after all narrating what happens daily in the lives of millions of people, and a million tongues speak. He does not have to resort to literary imagination or a Dickensian flow of language to describe the stark realities of brutality. Cutting across the spectrum of life in South africa he in fact has encompassed several books in one. Each facet of lofe is a tragic story of its own in its suffering, pain and anguish. There is theordinary life of the Black man and his family trapped in the vicious circle of poverty and struggle; of gang warfare exploding in brutal murders and crimes when the oppressed turn their wrath against one another; or the harsh conditions of Leewkop Prison itself from where Moses and others were transferred to the Island; of the inhuman exploitation of farm labourers, often made to dig with their bare hands, often whipped to death. he traverses these various brutal worlds.
In this world arbitrariness the relationship between oppressor and oppressed is distorted and reason and logic made to stand on its head. when a prisoner complains that the dust affects his health he is told: "There's nothing wrong with dust. Dust is healthy and clean. it has no germs. You go and ask the doctor." He might as well have told him that it never existed, that it was all his imagination.
In such a world of absolutes every whim is law. Yes baas, no baas. The frenzied imagination of absolute power can manufacture any excuse as a justification. it is repeated daily in all its starkness in the highest echelons of power, in the all-White Parliament: "we are the upholders of Western civilisation and democracy" (even when they deliberately flout every principle of that supposedly noble pillar of modern society); "the Bantustans are places where the Africans can develop themselves" (even when it is as barren as any desert, all the best land stolen by the colonialists); "we brought civilisation to the kaffir" (even when he's never enjoyed the fruits of that supposed civilisation). And so on. There need be no women to rape, no bombs to throw. The whimsical accusation and then the order for senseless beatings on defenceless people.
Yet the beatings, the torture and persecution had a purpose. Like the lectures on the usefulness of the Bantustans they aimed at acquiescence, to get you to accept the brutal laws laid down by the oppressor's unrelenting baton. The book in fact describes a struggle between the temptation to acquiesced and ended in disaster, losing their manhood, thrown to the wolves by the very forces they attempted to placate. Was it an ironical twist of fate that the Big Five sealed their doom with the confessions by their own leaders, perhaps the stirring of a buried repentance for the brutalities they inflicted on their fellow prisoners.
Eventually there was triumph against the barbarism and cruelties Human will and strength triumphed in an almost legendary manner and the prison burst into songs about flowers and blue skies. Oom Dellie, the cruel warder, was sent down, but to join the Watchtower Bible Society, " gooing about the country preaching about the coming Armageddon and trying to convince his fellow Boers to repent. Ultimately he committed suicide." There was victory too when one of the warders' wives committed adultery with one of the prisoners, and then refused to testify that he had raped her. (In South Africa a white woman could only have sexual intercourse with a Black if she's been raped!). In the end even the contradictions of life caught up with the persecutors.
Reading this harrowing account of curelty and suffering I felt first a burning rage, even hate, but in the end a sorrow that such sruel madness could exist in human beings. It made me wonder who was really oppressed, those who indulged in such barbarities, or those who in the midst of their sufferings dreamed of freedom and the simple verities of life. In the Hegelian dialectic the slave frees the master whose corruption had led him astray from the simple beauties of human co-operation, fellowship and respect. Moses' story beauties of dialectic, he himself looking forward, despite his bitter experiences, to an eventual free non-racial South Africa. But to one anchored in revolutionary struggle.
- Publisher : Africa World Pr (January 1, 1985)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 202 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0865430098
- ISBN-13 : 978-0865430099
- Item Weight : 8.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches