117 Days

Bechuanaland: colonial name of Botswana
Southern Rhodesia: colonial name of Zimbabwe
Northern Rhodesia: colonial name of Zambia
Dagga: marijuana
Govan Mbeki
: A founder of Umkhonto we Sizwe; sentenced to life in prison at Rivonia Trial (father of SA president Thabo Mbeki).
Harold Wolpe
: lawyer, member of SACP and ANC;
Arthur Goldriech
: anti-apartheid activist; member of MK; owner of Lillysleaf farm where many Rivonia trialists were captured
Abdulhay Jassat
: member of MK and Transvaal Indian Congress
Moosa Moolla
: treason trialist, MK member

“Harold Wolpe and Arthur Goldreich, close friends and both active in the liberation movement, were arrested more or less at the same time as [Ahmad] Kathrata and expected to be involved in the Rivonia Trial had they not make a dramatic escape from Johannesburg’s Marshall Square, together with Moosa Moolla and Abdulhay Jassat. They were never caught. Wolpe went to London, Goldreich to Israel, Jassat first to Tanzania and then London, and Moolla to various countries representing the…ANC. Today Moolla is High Commissioner to Pakistan, Jassat is in South Africa, and Harold Wolpe died in South Africa.”

Ahmad Kathrada, Letters from Robben Island: a Selection of Ahmed Kathrada’s Prison Correspondence, 1964-1989 (Zebra, 2000): 11.

Discussion Questions

First is arrested coming out of a university course in library science. She’s taking the course to reinvent herself professionally, since the state has restricted her activities as a journalist. Describe the variety of ways a police state is able to intrude on the private lives of its citizens. What range of reactions from those citizens can you identify?

Why was First arrested and detained?

In the selection of the book you read, First is detained in Marshall Square Prison—a jail in Johannesburg. Who else is jailed there? Who can First interact with? Describe the conditions of her isolation in solitary confinement. How is that different from the housing for other prisoners in the jail?

Describe the physical and mental discomfort of incarceration that First experienced.

What aspects of detention were the most difficult for First to deal with?

Did First get different treatment than other prisoner because she was white? Because she was a woman? Because of considerations of social class?

Does the difference between lawful and unlawful detention make a difference in a prisoner’s ability to deal with the stress of incarceration?

What psychological weapons do the police use against First? What are her responses?


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