On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison. His final period of imprisonment was in stark contrast to the 18 years he spent on Robben Island and at Pollsmoor Prison in Tokai, Cape Town from 1982-1988:
“[I]n December 1988 Mandela was moved to Victor Verster Prison near Paarl. He was housed in the relative comfort of a warder’s house with a personal cook, and used the time to complete his LLB degree. While there, he was permitted many visitors and organised secret communications with exiled ANC leader Oliver Tambo.”
* * *
“Mandela and South Africa are not … unique in the role prison played in the political development of nation and individual; rather, they point to the role of prison in the political processes of many peoples and struggles. Imprisonment preceded national office for leaders ranging from Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Cuba’s Fidel Castro in anticolonial struggles to Czechoslovakia’s Václav Havel and South Korea’s Kim Dae Jung in the post-Cold War era [‘Mandela actually saw Algeria’s first president, Ahmed Ben Balla, welcomed back from prison after he was released and before he became independent Algeria’s first premier.’]. Nkrumah, like Mandela, went into prison as a self-conscious and publicly recognized political dissident; in other cases, however, jail cells have facilitated the development of political consciousness, as in the example[s] of Malcom X [and George Jackson].
Despite the centrality of imprisonment in ordering the political history of South Africa and elsewhere, analyses of the place of political imprisonment in political structures and trajectories are rare. Incarceration resulting from challenging the status quo or balance of power is often recognized as a credential for political status or even office. Aryeh Neier, for example, notes that ‘political prominence in the postcolonial period was hardly possible without a record of imprisonment during the struggle for independence.’ There has, however, been little to record or assess whether and how imprisonment itself has shaped activists’ strategies , the nature of political movement, and articulations or theories of resistance or whether prisoners may have influenced how their captors (re)considered incarceration as state policy. [….]
Political imprisonment plays a vital role in shaping resistance movements and their methods. The strategies and history of political prisoners require investigation as a part of broader (national) resistance movements and as a contribution to theories of resistance. Patterns of prisoner resistance point to the need to rethink aspects of political processes and historiorgraphy.”—From the Introduction to Fran Lisa Buntman’s Robben Island and Prisoner Resistance to Apartheid (Cambridge University Press, 2003).
Punishment & Prison in South Africa during the Apartheid Era:
- Alexander, Neville (1994) Robben Island Dossier, 1964-1974. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press.
- Bernstein, Hilda (1972) South Africa: The Terrorism of Torture. London: Christian Action Publications.
- Bernstein, Hilda (1978) No. 46—Steve Biko. London: International Defence & Aid Fund, 1978.
- Breytenbach, Breyten (1985) The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
- Buntman, Fran Lisa (2003) Robben Island and Prisoner Resistance to Apartheid. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- Coetzee, Jan K. (2000) Plain Tales from Robben Island. Pretoria, South Africa: Van Schaik Publishers.
- Daniels, Eddie (3rd ed., 2002) There and Back: Robben Island, 1964-1979. Cape Town: Mayibuye Books.
- Desai, Ashwin (2014/Unisa Press, 2012) Reading Revolution: Shakespeare on Robben Island. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books.
- Dlamini, Moses (1985) Robben Island, Hell-Hole: Reminiscences of a Political Prisoner. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.
- First, Ruth (revised ed., 2006; original ed., 1965) 117 Days. Johannesburg, South Africa: Penguin Books.
- Foster, Don, with Dennis Davis and Diane Sandler (1987) Detention and Torture in South Africa: Psychological, Legal, and Historical Studies. Cape Town: David Philip.
- Gready, Paul (2003) Writing as Resistance: Life Stories of Imprisonment, Exile, and Homecoming from Apartheid South Africa. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
- Hutton, Barbara (1994) Robben Island: Symbol of Resistance. Johannesburg: Sached and Mayibuye Books.
- Kathrada, Ahemd (Robert D. Vassen, ed.) (1999) Letters from Robben Island: A selection of Ahmad Kathrada’s prison correspondence, 1964-1989. Rivonia, SA: Zebra Press.
- Kathrada, Ahmed (2011/Zebra Press, 2004) No Bread for Mandela: Memoirs of Ahmed Kathrada, Prisoner No. 468/64. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.
- Kathrada, Ahmed (with Tim Couzens) (2016) A Simple Freedom: The Strong Mind of Robben Island—Prisoner No. 468. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky.
- Lewin, Hugh (2013 ed.) Bandiet Out of Jail. Cape Town: Umuzi/Random House Struik (originally published as Bandiet: Seven Years in a South African Prison, London: Barrie & Jenkins, 1974).
- Mbeki, Govan (1991) Learning from Robben Island: The Prison Writings of Govan Mbeki. London: James Currey/Athens, OH: Ohio University Press/Cape Town: David Philip.
- McLachan, Fiona, with additional material by Dirk V.Z. Smit (1984) Children in Prison in South Africa: A Study Commissioned by Defense for Children International. Cape Town: Institute of Criminology, University of Cape Town.
- Meer, Fatima (2001) Prison Diary: one hundred and thirteen days, 1976. Cape Town: Kwela Books.
- Naidoo, Indres (updated ed., 2000) Island in Chains: Indres Naidoo, Prisoner 885/63. Sandton, SA: Penguin Books.
- Sachs, Albie (1966) The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs. London: Harvill Press.
- Schadeberg, Jurgen (compiler and photographer) (1994) Voices from Robben Island. Randburg, SA: Ravan Press.
- Schreiner, Barbara, ed. (1992) A Snake with Ice Water: Prison Writings by South African Women. Johannesburg: Congress of South African Writers.
- Suttner, Raymond (2001) Inside Apartheid’s Prisons: Notes and Letters of Struggle. Melbourne: Ocean Press/ Pietermaritzburg, SA: University of Natal Press.
- Zwelonke, D.M. (1973) Robben Island. London: Heinemann.
And my bibliography for “punishment and prison” is here.