This collection of prison writings straddles two continents, and compares and contrasts the political struggles that gave birth to two vibrant new democracies of the twenty-first century: South Africa and the Czech Republic. The triumph over decades of suffering endured by the ordinary citizens of these two countries is symbolized by their leaders, Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel.
While the moral stature of these two men continues to act as a beacon for other political aspirants in a new century, they call upon us all to acknowledge the role played by ordinary men and women in effecting freedom and justice. For this reason, Fallen Walls focuses on the experiences of ordinary prisoners of conscience. It records three voices from the apartheid-era cells of Robben Island--Joseph Mati, Johnson Mgabela, Monde Mkunqwana--and three voices from communist-era prisons in Czechoslovakia--Jiri Mesicki, Lola Skodova, and Jiri Stransky. There are striking similarities as well as differences between the two sets of stories. On a personal level, the tales from Robben Island are characterized by an absence of bitterness and thoughts of revenge, while a sense of bleak isolation and lingering bitterness pervades accounts from the Czechoslovakian prisons and labor camps. The buoyant tone of triumph of the South Africans is balanced by the darker, more skeptical mood of the Czechs. In an age that teeters so precariously between hope and despair, the narratives of these six prisoners of conscience remind us not only of what we are, but also of what we may become.
In a timely warning against complacency, Vaclav Havel notes in his foreword that "the authors remind us anew of the price that is so often paid for freedom and democracy." Fallen Walls will be of interest to historians, sociologists, human rights activists, and political scientists.
Jan K. Coetzee is professor of sociology at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa. He is the author of Development is for People, Reconstruction, Development, and People, Development: Theory, Policy, and Practice, and Life on the Margin. He was awarded the Vice-Chancellor's Book Award at Rhodes University for his books Plain Tales from Robben Island and Fallen Walls. Lynda Gilfillan is a freelance writer and editor. Otakar Hulec is a researcher at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic. [via]