The Robben Island Shakespeare [formerly The Robben Island Bible]
      The Robben Island Shakespeare [formerly The Robben Island Bible]

Research & Development of Workshops

The Ethical Leadership Workshop based on The Robben Island Bible play had it pilot at the South West Gauteng College in Soweto, South Africa in August 2014. It ran over two weeks and delivered a presentation / performance of Shakespeare, monologues from the former political prisoners’ interviews as well as new pieces of writing created by the college students. The students examined the current leadership situation on a personal, local & national level. They also examined and reflected on their responsibility as young leaders as well as future leaders within South Africa.

These workshops have been inspired by South African Sonny Venkatrathnam, a former political prisoner on Robben Island and critic of the current political state of affairs within South Africa and utilizing his copy of ‘William Shakespeare’s Complete Works,’ the team has come together over a shared believe that there is a dearth of ethical leadership in today’s world. As inspirational as many of the chosen quotes were about leadership, according to Sonny, many of the men who chose these quotes whilst in prison and who are now currently in politics or business within South Africa have not lived up to such inspiration and have caused great harm to this young democratic country.

But unethical leadership is certainly not unique to South Africa. From dictatorships that pockmark Africa, to a Nobel Prize winning president who condone the use of drones to drop bombs on countries thousands of miles away, to the abandonment of a green agenda in the United Kingdom, many world leaders are driven by short-term goals and personal wealth creation rather than true – ethical – leadership. The Ethical Leadership Workshop have been set up as a direct response to such difficulties found in South Africa as well as the rest of the world by examining ethical leadership whilst young people are still in education.

Shakespeare’s characters portray this wide range of ethical leaders. From Richard III and Macbeth whose inner demons drove them to the height of leadership at any cost to Henry IV who seeks to lead from the middle through consultation with his men before going into battle.

Political prisoners, like Shakespeare’s ‘Henry IV’, sought to learn from each other the foundation of ethical leadership whist on Robben Island. From interviews, many of the men describe their time Robben Island as a ‘University’ where the men taught and learned from each other using the literature of Shakespeare, Sophocles and Marx amongst others. Twenty years into a South African democracy, these men also reflect on how far they have come and how far they still have to go before true democracy is achieved for the masses and whether or not it was all worth it.

The Ethical Leadership Workshop is very flexible in it delivery. The students examine what lessons can be learned and applied by today’s and tomorrow’s leaders. Shakespeare’s texts have been used in the past to explore how a good leader is formed, applies his or her vision and beliefs, behaves and manages the people and situations around him or her. We want to build on this work, using interviews that Hahn conducted with men who were imprisoned on Robben Island to focus the minds and hearts of tomorrow’s leaders on the price one pays for truly transformational, inspired, ethical and sustainable leadership. From a dramatist’s perspective, we would explore use of voice, space & body to highlight how a leader might be a source of inspiration to others.

Shakespeare’s texts have a track record in exploring how a good leader is formed and leads [generally through the exploration of Henry IV as an example of a ‘good’ leader; Macbeth & Richard III as examples of ‘bad’ leaders]. We want to build on this using the interviews with the men who were imprisoned on Robben Island and focus the training on students who might be going into positions of leadership of one form or another in the future.

The aim or the workshop is to benefit the students through being inspired to be better leaders through the words of Shakespeare & the former political prisoners and to create a pathway to future leadership. If possible and of benefit, Hahn would be interested in working with local teachers to help shape & develop it in ways in which they think is best for their students. He would be keen to work with them to finely develop the workshops. The project is quite flexible in terms of deliverability. At minimum, a reduced version could be delivered in 5 days: one day to work with the teachers and four days to deliver to the students. This can then be easily scaled up depending on the arrangements to include term long modules.

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