Meet Mark Shinners, a ex political prisoner that taught President Jacob Zuma junior certification (JC) English while they were jailed on Robben Island.
Shinners, 71, prisoner number 493/63 on Robben Island, is among the ex-political prisoners who built the late president Nelson Mandela’s prison cell prior to his arrival on the island.
He revealed to The Citizen President Zuma and the late minister of safety and security Steve Tshwete were in his English class.
Shinners, a member of the Pan African Congress (PAC) and Zuma, a member of Umkhonto We Sizwe – although they were members of different political organisations and lived in different regions – were sent to Robben Island for conspiring to overthrow the apartheid government.
They were both sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment.
Shinners said a large number of PAC members and a few from the ANC arrived on Robben Island early in 1963. Zuma arrived later that year. He and Shinners were locked up in Cell B3. Although Cell 1 was a designated study cell, the underground studies took place in Cell B3.
Shinners described the young Zuma as a well-disciplined and loyal freedom fighter.
He said despite the age difference, Zuma was more than willing to be taught.
“He showed maturity and discipline while he was in prison. On the island, you are trained to listen and listen carefully – and I can still see those elements in him. Zuma does not panic when faced by difficult circumstances. Even on Robben Island, when the boers came down hard on us, we remained calm and laughed about it,” he chuckled.
Although there were qualified teachers – such as Jeff Masemola who served life imprisonment on the island – those who served shorter sentences were released earlier.
Therefore, Shinners and others had to teach their fellow prisoners.
Shinners had a junior certificate and taught Zuma, Tshwete and others “construction of sentences, sentence and clause analysis and syntax”.
“Zuma was very diligent, always neat and making sure he performed his tasks and submitted his assignments on time,” he recalled.
“People underestimate him. He may not be certificated but clearly the man is highly intelligent. He said he was a herdboy before he went to prison – and look at where he is now.
“He is a self-taught man, very cautious and very structured – unlike Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande. That’s what makes me feel ‘that’s my student’ every time he addresses the audience, because we know where he learnt that.
“People may say he is struggling but we, who know where he comes from, understand.”
Shinners said Zuma was barely literate when he arrived in prison but “when he left prison he had a complete different personality; he was quite confident of himself”.
source: The Citizen