MODULE A: Conf licting Perspectives
 You do not need to “know” every little detail of
these texts – it is not a “content” based study!
 You SELECTIVELY INCLUDE the parts and the
chapters which help YOU answer the question.
 Apartheid – former official policy in South Africa
(racial segregation involving political and economic and
legal discrimination against people who are not Whites)
ANC – African National Congress - political party which
was banned in South Africa because of its opposition to
Afrikaner – (white people of South Africa whose ancestors
were Dutch and who speaks Afrikaans)
Amnesty International – Independent, international
organisation which supports human rights, especially
prisoners of conscience
Bantustan – a section of South Africa known as a
“homeland” set aside for black people.
 Appearance and reality
 South Africa Vs International community
 Dependence and independence
 Law and justice
 Fear and courage
 “blacks” and “whites”
 State and subjects
 Authority and individuals
 Quick think: What other conflicts exist here?
 Robertson selects to include the voice of Mr.
Tshishonga to ridicule him personally
He is a symbol of the falsehood of Venda
He is a comic caricature
Robertson uses him to further his main point that
Venda was not really independent, but was being used
as an outpost by South Africa where they could get
away with things.
It’s a guise! As is Mr Tshishonga. Corruption!
 That states/governments/authorities can abuse their
power over people
 That individuals given too much power can use their
positions to do bad things to others
 That individuals should have full access to basic
human rights
 That South Africa was using Venda as a place to
imprison and torture ANC people
 Robertson visits the area in 1984
 Robertson is working for Amnesty International
 Robertson’s purpose: observe the pastors’ attempts to
sue the police who had killed a lay preacher
 Secondly, so that the prosecution and judges in South
Africa have the sensation that they “were being
watched” – so they cannot be a “rule unto themselves”
 “The most courageous man I ever met…”
 We immediately see him as heroic, brave, strong
“He was not a political activist but a poet”
 Connotations of poets include artistic, sensitive,
 “His crime was minor…”
 “I was privileged to observe this man’s thought
processes as he became a prisoner of conscience,
probably at the cost of his life…”
 Venda was a bantustan in northern South Africa
 Now part of Limpopo province.
 Founded as a homeland by the Apartheid Regime for the people, who
spoke the Venda language.
Declared self-governing on 1 February 1973.
Declared independent by the South African government on 13 September
1979 and its residents lost their South African citizenship. In common
with other bantusans
its independence was not recognized by the international community.
Being nominally (by name, rather than in actuality)independent it was
possible to set up a casino which was done in the early 1980s, staffed in
the main by British workers.
At independence in 1973, the population of Venda stood at 200 000
(From Wikipedia)
 “…a country of which I had never heard until Amnesty
International asked me to go there, and which no
longer exists – if indeed it ever really did”
 We doubt the veracity of this place and its people
 “Unlike an elephant, you would not know Venda when
you saw it.”
 Tongue-in-cheek – tone!
 “In 1979, when Venda had declared independence – or
rather, had ‘independence’ declared for it by South
Africa as a ‘native homeland’. This was nonsense, since
South Africa supplied its public funds and did not
permit any political initiative without its approval.”
A. What is the effect of using inverted commas here?
B. Why does he use a dash to clarify that independence
was declared for Venda rather than by Venda?
C. What is he suggesting about the Republic of Venda?
D. Venda’s laws were South African laws, its sole judge an
“No country in the world other than South Africa
recognised its ‘independence’, a fiction which allowed
Pretoria to pretend that the murders committed in
Vendan police custody and the electric shocks
administered to those suspected of supporting the ANC
were none of the South Africa’s business.”
What is Robertson’s opinion, here?
 “The comic opera side of Venda was immediately
apparent …”
 “…signs which proudly pointed to ‘Foreign Embassies’
on ‘Embassy Row’, because the only Embassy in town
was not foreign: it was the South African Embassy.”
 “The state airline, Venda-Air, was a car-hire service”
 “The largest government department was Foreign
Affairs, which lacked any foreign recognition…”
 “There was one luxury hotel; where Afrikaner farmers
enjoyed vices illegal in South Africa”
What is the implication of this inclusion?
 These Afrikaner farmers “came to gamble at the
casino, watch hardcore pornography…and then have
inter-racial sex with black prostitutes (on
‘independence’ in 1979, the Immorality Act was the
only piece of apartheid legislation not applied to
 What is the implication of the fact included in the
brackets, here?
 There was a parliament, but the building was locked
and my enquiries met with the elliptical response
“Parliament is not in session because it is an election
 What does elliptical mean?
 What is the effect of the inclusion of this
illogical/ironic response?
 “one of the smart new breed of Vendan civil servants
who were put forward to answer questions about the
torture of prisoners”
 Tone?
 “I am secretary of the committee which is looking into
this matter. I cannot tell you what we are doing about
it because our proceedings are confidential”
 How does this irony help to shape your response to Mr
 “One of the detainees died of typhoid contracted in
 “Yes, that was very unfortunate. But how on earth were
we to know the old man was sick? He did not
 He was “half glad to see me” – in an “unrecognised
country, my visit counted as some confirmation of his
existence, if only as an apologist for torture and
neglect and murder”
How does the inclusion of two conjunctions “and” here
make meaning?
How does “apologist” help to position Mr Tshishonga?
 “He was vexed about Amnesty, however: “We get all
these letters from your members. They say the people
we convict are innocent. How on earth do they know?”
 Robertson contradicts Mr T’s point immediately:
“Amnesty letters never say this: they are carefully
worded to complain only of breaches in minimum
standards of justice or prison treatment”
 Mr T, to prove his point, says “If you like, I will show you
the file” and “clapped his hands to summon his secretary”,
saying “Bring me the file for Amnesty International”.
Excited now, he emptied all the letters onto the desk.
“There, see for yourself!”
“Not one of them had been opened. I pointed out to Mr T
that his minister did not seem to read his mail.
Mr T’s “mouth fell open” and he said “The minister has
been on holidays. Since…since…” he scrambled for some
postmarks, “since last year. He is still on holidays…”
What is the effect of the inclusion of this episode with the
unread letters? How do we perceive Mr Tshashinga and his
 The letters, may never be read, but, “they at least
brings home to the servants of brutal, isolated states,
that somewhere, someone is watching them”
 South Africa had been made a “pariah state” because
of its policy of apartheid.
 “South African judges and politicians and Attorneys
General always received Amnesty observers with a
nervous politeness, and usually allowed us into their
courts and prisons” and “wanted us to like them and
approve of them.
 Robertson represented Amnesty International
 “Amnesty’s measured reports did more in the long
term to persuade apartheid’s defenders that the system
was indefensible”
Responsible for aqcuitting the policeman who killed the lay pracher
The Times, London – criticised him for this.
He claims he, like his father, has been “libelled” by them. He says:
“They attacked my father twenty four years ago, when he was South
African Ambassador to britian and had to explain why our actions in
Sharpeville were necessary” (In 1960, South African police had
massacred sixty nine peaceful protesters there)
 Because he comes from a similar common law background to
Robertson, Van Rhyne speaks frankly to him.
 “I am so upset about this because I admire you English lawyers. I once
had the great privilege of meeting your Lord Denning. You English
lawyers know that rules must be followed.” Lord Denning tended to
make up the rules as he went along. ‘Like my father, I to am an
ambassador for South Africa.’ No he wasn’t. He was a judge.
 How does Robertson’s subjective narration, undermine Van Ryhn and
position us to see him as an inaccurate bumbling idiot?
 “I am sacrificing some years of my life to help these
unfortunate people, before I go back to the South
African Supreme Court.” But we were in South Africa,
 These perspectives are in direct conflict with each
 Robertson tells us, with irony “He alone would
decide whether to compensate the black Lutheran
 Highlights the unjust/unfair nature of the law in a
Republic like Venda.
 Lawyer for black pastors (who were seeking
Robertson tells us his “was an impossible task”
Robertson was “anxious to meet him”
“His specialty was driving coaches and horses through
apartheid legislation. (In Pretoria, the draftsmen
talked about making their laws ‘Mahomed-proof’)”
He was the “first black to become a senior counsel after
a career in which he suffered every petty humiliation,
se he was undaunted at the prospect appearing before
Van Rhyn.
 “were brutally treated in detention (the medical evidence
was overwhelming)” but
“were gentle churchmen with no wish for revenge: their
leader gave talks entitled “Why I forgive my torturers”
The lawyer offered the state a deal – admission of police
guilt and $10,000 per plaintiff – Robertson thought that,
because it was important to expose police brutality through
trials, that they had made the wrong decision to make this
Robertson, however, understood their decision after
witnessing their “distended bellies of the famine victims”
They are the heroes who have not only been tortured but
are starving and will take a cash deal to feed their poor and
starving people.
 “was offered a bargain as well”
 He had been charged with “harbouring ANC guerrillas”
 He gave porridge when the “boys from the bush” turned up
on his doorstep. Dobbed in by fellow-sympathiser who had
dogged him to get a lower sentence himself.
“It was hardly a serious offence…”
Minimum term of prison had been set to five years…but – a
new deal was on offer…”
“Van Rhyn would make a show of being even more
merciful, and sentence to eight months”
“Any time in Venda’s typhoid-ridden prisons was
dangerous…and the five year sentence was often a death
 “This deal was immediately accepted by the first
‘harbourer’ brought to court”
 “Van Rhyn nodded in my direction as he began his
sentencing homily. “The attitude of the State in this case
has been fair, lenient and almost compassionate…you will
find my sentence extremely lenient.” He was talking to
Amnesty and to “The Times of London” as he said this – he
had never given a sentence so low for a harbouring offence
and would not do so again, I sadly suspected, when
Amnesty was no longer watching him.”
What is the implication of Robertson’s subjective inclusion
 “He was forty-five, a man of the most extraordinary
presence and dignity.”
 He had produced from the sole of his shoe “his prison
diary” and had “written several books of verse” – he was
“Venda’s only published poet”
 To plead and accept a deal that was less than five year
sentence, he would have to acknowledge that he had
committed “high treason with the intention to harm the
sovereign state of Venda”
 To this Ratshinga said “There is no way, absolutely no way
that I can bring myself to acknowledge the existence of the
State of Venda”
 There was no moving him. His lawyer tried and…so did I.
What kind of man is Ratshinga, according to Robertson?
 But this man, for all the pain and privations of five further years of
imprisonment, could not acknowledge the existence of Venda as an
independent constitutional entity.”
“He was right, of course, as a matter of principal: the State of Venda was
a sick joke perpetrated by south Africa as a cover for apartheid. But
would it really matter to anyone if he accepted that he had impaired its
non-existent sovereignty? It mattered to Robert Ratshitanga.
“He unswervingly declined to receive mercy at the hands of a country
in which he did not believe. He was truly, thereafter, a prisoner of his
own conscience.”
Robert Ratshinga was found guilty, as he undoubtedly was, and jailed
for five years as a terrorist, which he undoubtedly was not.
He was “the epitome of courage”
“A man who refused to save himself either by lying to the court or by
copping a fraudulent plea…”
 Robertson believes that the State/government can use their
power for “bad”
Is he, in some ways, the “typical’ anti-authoritarian Australian?
 He includes a situation where Ndenzile Thembani was shot by
police and how the police seemed to be covering something up.
“He claimed that 800 youths had been stoning his caspir, but he
could not explain the absence of stones on the road.”
 He lists a series of rhetorical questions which seem to prove that
the officer was suspicious if not guilty of Thembani’s death.
 “Why had he not helped the wounded?” He was not going to say
any more.
 “It was another example of the random shootings of the time, as
police and army aimed to kill or cause serious injury, without any
credible claim to be acting in self-defence…”
 Concession: “Judges in South Africa were not all like
Van Rhyn and Human – many…maintained a fidelity to
the law unfazed by the pressure of apartheid politics”
 “The scale of human-rights abuse later revealed by
Bishop Tutu’s “Truth and Reconciliation Commission”
shows how much the state had hidden. South Africa
was putting on a show with trials and appeals which
suggested that justice, if not in robust health, was still
breathing. At a submerged level, enemies who did
matter were simply executed without trial or even
 Ian Gray – Australian missionary
 “an idealistic youth from Toowoomba”
 “An innocent abroad”
 Arrested by government officials after distributing Bibles
from his combi-van
 Inside were message he was carrying to the leader of
Renamo, a rebel force in combat with Marxist govt.
Accused of spying.
 Punishment – death, unless persuaded otherwise
 Renamo “group of thugs and desperadoes originally
recruited and trained by Rhodesia’s white army to
destabilise a hostile neighbour.
 I respected the sincerity of Ian’s beliefs. (First name
basis!) but doubted the facts on which they were
 Ian’s fate would be decided in secret by a court which
frequently handed down death sentences, and it had
never allowed legal representation
 Robertson is his lawyer
 Aim: to convince Revolutionary Missionary Tribunal to
spare Ian Gray’s life
 “Punishment left to history or to God does not deter
the brazen or the Godless, and most State killers are
 Control over Malawi
 Couldn’t handle criticism – ordered that four of his
members of Parliament be killed
 The police chief…carried out these orders…they were
arrested, and “bashed their brains out”
 Bodies put in a car and pushed off a cliff
 Cabinet Secretary announced they had met with a
road accident
 “There was no inquest, as the law required, because
Hastings Banda was the law”
 Their bodies were delivered to their families in dirty
blankets, not only dead, but dishonoured. There
names were never mentioned in official records again;
they became ‘non-persons’”
 1992, Robertson meets Dr. Banda
 Had been running Malawi for 28 years
 “personally enshrined in its Constitution as President
for Life”
 Robertson is critical of his “familiar, colonial story”
and how the British systems were used to support it.
 “briefly imprisoned by the British, released to become
the leader upon independence, quickly dispensing
with democracy and then proceeding to use British
law…to suppress all dissent, helped by British lawyers”
 Dictator? Tyrant?
 “The army he kept weak…television was banned and
developments in the outside world were filtered
through the nation’s only radio station and newspaper
which he owned… Regular celebrations of
himself…were held…”
 Includes his voice, to help caricature him:
“I am Nkhoswe (powerful man) and…I like Mbumba
(women)!... They love me and I love them…Wherever I
go…the women sing and dance for me!”
 Robertson compares his remarks to “Me Tarzan, You
Jane” – making him seem primitive, inarticulate and
 “waved his ornate ebony fly whisk”
 Robertson uses statistics to show that Banda’s
leadership had done nothing for the country:
 “an infant mortality rate of 15.35%, an average life
expcetancy of merely forty six years and a literacy rate
of barely 25%. Twenty eight years of Dr Banda’s rule
had brought few benefits” except for “his friends and
 Robertson says “You would not have thought so, to
hear him speak” and then includes minutes from his
meeting with Dr. Banda…” (SEE OVER)
 BANDA’s VOICE is selectively included:
“Milawi is one of the most prosperous countries in Africa. It is a star
performer. The IMF and World Bank are full of praise. This makes me
very happy…There is no poverty, the villagers are prosperous – glob!
Glob!glob! (The Life President indicates with his hand how the rain water
was prone to drip down) – because in Milawi when it rains it pours! My
people are happy. They dance for me and they sing for me. You are very
welcome because you have brought a Mbubma with you”
 Robertson interjects with “This man had the power of life over nine
million people” – simplicity of sentence = profound statement.
 The irony, the contradiction (when compared with the statistics) is
hilariously, (and scarily) audacious. CONFLICTING PERSPECTIVE
 Robertson caricatures this man skilfully – we are positioned to perceive
this man as an ignorant, womanising, maniac who lies through his
teeth or at best, is in complete denial about the country he leads.
 “Banda’s Mikado laugh, a kind of hacking, chortling
paroxysm which shook him whenever he mentioned
the death of an opponent”
What MEANING do we get from this?
 By 1992, there were only ninety-seven lawyers for nine
million people in Malawi – lowest ratio in all the
 “I remember most vividly the low voices in which
church leaders and judges spoke when
whispering…even the mildest criticisms of the way in
which the country was run. Spies were everywhere and
punishment was at the whim of the Life President.”
 He includes secret requests to Banda which were
found later.
 Banda’s orders were scrawled on the margins
“Have this man arrested, tried, imprisoned and after
whatever sentence he serves, he must be detained
 Or, on another secret memo he wrote “Pick the man
up right away and lock him away forever”. Robertson
tells us the man’s “crime had only been to come to Dr
Banda’s attention and be the son of a man the Life
President did not like”
 “By now the country was only surviving on
international aid and the donor nations were
becoming nervous about Malawi’s appalling humanrights record…”
 “In September…an opposition party was announced:
our lawyer hosts allowed their names to be published
amongst its founders, hoping that our presence would
help them survive, as at least we would observe their
 What is the implication of this statement?
 The new government wanted to prosecute Banda for
murder, which carried the death penalty.
 I advised them that hanging him was not the way to
eradicate the memory of a regime which exterminated
its opponents. So he was prosecuted for conspiracy to
murder (which carried ten years’ imprisonment) –
Robertson is anti-death penalty?
 True, a man I believed guilty of a crime against
humanity had avoided conviction. But the trial had
been conducted openly, under rules which were fair to
the defence, and the verdict had established what the
defendant himself had deprived his people of for so
many years: the precious possibility of innocence.

The Prisoner of Venda