Robben Island Bible
Glasgow life

Robben Island Bible

A very special book visits the Mitchell Library
A treasured Nelson Mandela ‘bible’ is now on display in Glasgow as part of the city’s huge Mandela Day celebrations.

The original Robben Island Bible was flown in from South Africa and will take pride of place in the Mitchell Library for the next three months. It has been loaned to the city by Sonny Venkatrathnam, who was a Robben Island prisoner at the same time as Nelson Mandela.

The book is in fact a copy of the The Complete Works of Shakespeare which Sonny Venkatrathnam kept in his cell. Venkatrathnam disguised its cover with Diwali cards and told prison guards it was his bible to prevent its seizure. He eventually passed it to 33 of his fellow South African political prisoners, asking them to sign a passage that meant a lot to them.

Nelson Mandela was inspired by Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and underlined the following section which he signed and dated December 16, 1977.
‘Cowards die many times before their deaths
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I have heard,
It seems to me the most strange that men should fear,
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.’

The book is the centrepiece of a free exhibition, titled Scotland and the Commonwealth – 400 Years in the Making, and will be on display in the library’s main hall until Saturday, October 4. Exhibition organisers Glasgow Libraries expect huge interest due to Mandela’s strong links with the city.

The former South African president, who died last year aged 95, was granted the freedom of Glasgow in 1981 during his imprisonment. Five years later, Glasgow City Council renamed St George’s Place after the anti-apartheid hero, and he was also honoured by the Glasgow, Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian universities. In 1993 Mandela visited Glasgow for a special concert celebrating his release from prison and to thank the city for its support.

Karen Cunningham, Head of Glasgow Libraries, said: “Nelson Mandela had a great affection for Glasgow and we are extremely proud of our strong connection to such a remarkable man. He was arguably the greatest Commonwealth leader of all time and therefore it is fitting that we celebrate his life and achievements as we host the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

“The Robben Island Bible is of strong historical significance and we are grateful to Sonny Venkatrathnam for loaning us the book. I’m sure many visitors will come along to the Mitchell Library to see it in person.”

South African dignitaries visited the Mitchell Library today to view the exhibition - and to thank Glasgow Libraries for launching a book donation campaign. Seven libraries across Glasgow are collecting books throughout July to help educate underprivileged children living in Nelson Mandela’s home Province of Eastern Cape.
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