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Robben Island and Prisoner Resistance to Apartheid


  • 11 b/w illus.
  • Page extent: 358 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.617 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 323/.044/096809045
  • Dewey version: 21
  • LC Classification: HV9850.5 .B86 2003
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Political prisoners--South Africa--Robben Island--Political activity
    • Blacks--South Africa--Robben Island--Political activity
    • Prisons--South Africa--Robben Island
    • Robben Island (South Africa)--Social conditions
    • Anti-apartheid movements--South Africa--Robben Island

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521809931 | ISBN-10: 0521809932)

Robben Island prison in South Africa held thousands of black political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, who opposed apartheid. This book reconstructs the inmates' resistance strategies to show how these men created a political and social order behind bars. Survival was their first goal; challenging apartheid was their true aim. So although Robben Island was designed to repress, it was continually transformed by its political inmates into a site of resistance. The book theorizes that, where material conditions permit, the most far-reaching and effective forms of resistance involve constructive political action which seeks to remake existing power relationships. This theory is demonstrated in three focuses of the book: the activism of Robben Islanders, the effects of political prisoner resistance on the apartheid state machinery, and in comparative cases which illustrate various international instances of political prisoners shaping both prisons and political orders.

• Based on over 100 interviews of former Robben Island political prisoners and their captors • Carefully researched, politically balanced, interdisciplinary work • Identifies an important new area of scholarship–prison politics and how it shapes democratic struggles and regimes


1. Introduction: prison as a source of politics; 2. Politics and prison: a background; 3: Resistance for survival; 4. Resistance beyond survival; 5. Prisoner politics and organization on Robben Island; 6. Debates and disagreements; 7. Influencing South African politics; 8. Political imprisonment and the state; 9. Theorizing islander resistance; 10. Beyond Robben Island: comparisons and conclusion.


'… meticulously researched … packed with detail about the political and social lives of the huge mix of prisoners held in Robben Island over more than two decades.' The Round Table

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