Voices and Music from Inside South Africa’s Apartheid Prisons

Unless you sing your own song, the hymn sheet will be buried away, your history will disappear, no matter how noble it is (Anthony Suze, Robben Island prisoner 501/63)

 Music Beyond Borders is currently recording previously untold oral histories of surviving protagonists of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa (1948-1991) to create an original digital archive documenting this unique period in contemporary South African socio-political history. The Ubuntu Prison Archive focuses on real-life prison stories and the critical role of music as a form of resistance and survival in the liberation movement and the notorious apartheid prisons, including Robben Island maximum security prison.

The Ubuntu Prison Archive especially aims to identify the unknown faces of the men and women – black, coloured, Asian and white from all walks of life – who formed the backbone of the liberation struggle and whose experiences of the anti-apartheid movement and the harrowing apartheid prisons in the most shocking inhuman conditions have thus far gone completely unrecorded.

These moving and brave accounts create a unique and never-before-seen portrayal of the South African apartheid era. The archive will also include recordings of original music from the apartheid prisons, thus creating a rare record of South African musical history.

The oral histories collected in the Ubuntu Prison Archive resonate today in their universal defense of humanitarian values on a global level and provide a new window on the universal struggle for human rights, raising consciousness and preserving a collective memory.

We are currently researching appropriate institutions and foundations for the deposit of the Archive for the purpose of original historical research, documentaries, radio programs, historical texts, and other works.

The Ubuntu Prison Archive derives its name from the South African philosophical concept of Ubuntu, a shortened version of a Zulu proverb, “Umuntu ngumuntu ngamantu,” meaning “I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours.” The spirit of Ubuntu (togetherness, respect, human dignity, compassion, and community) is embedded in all the interviews, stories and music found in the Archive.