You are here: Home / Special Initiatives / Annual Lecture Series / The Nelson Mandela Lecture Series / Crain Soudien - 10/23/12

Crain Soudien - 10/23/12

Who We Are

Who We Are

Crain SoudienCrain Soudien is a professor in the School of Education at the University of Cape Town. He works in the areas of race, class, gender and education and also in the area of historical studies and has published approximately 100 articles in journals, chapters in books, reviews and five books. He has done extensive work on the making of youth identity in South Africa. He is heavily involved in a range of cultural, scholarly and social organisations and is currently the chairperson of the District Six Museum and the President of the World Council of Comparative Education Societies.

"Nelson Mandela, Robben Island and the Imagination of a New South Africa"

Eighteen of the 27 years that Nelson Mandela spent in prison were on Robben Island (June 1964 to April 1982). Most narratives of this period correctly focus on the hardship through which Mr. Mandela and his fellow-prisoners went. In these narratives one sees the lengths to which the apartheid government goes to break the liberation movement, to isolate its leaders and to break their spirit. One also sees, by way of response, the extraordinary largeness of spirit of the prisoners, their capacity to hold on to a sense of their dignity and their creativeness in attempting to construct lives for themselves on the Island. In this talk I emphasize how significantly intellectual this creative dimension of prison life was and how it contributes to alternative imaginings of a future South Africa. I show how, from the moment the Commissioner of Prisons on a visit to the Island makes the mistake of asking Nelson Mandela in the presence of the other prisoners the question: "'Now what is it you want about things like studies, what is it you want?', and hearing Mandela's reply: 'You should let the atmosphere of a university prevail here on the Island,'" the prison evolves into a space of intense, often uncomfortable, but generative learning. In this space prisoners explore, in ways and on a scale that had not taken place in the country before, or possibly even since, the limits of their identities as South Africans. I show how, through the process of formal study and the informal flowering of seminars, debates and engagements that take place, Mr. Mandela and his fellow prisoners work through, often with great personal difficulty, the questions of their individual and collective pasts, their subjectivities and begin to delineate alternative visions of what a new South Africa could look like. This 'working through' for Mandela, I attempt to show, involved difficult questions around race, nation and the political economy of South Africa.

Nittany Lion Inn, Board Room 1
6:00-7:30 p.m.