White Paper, White Ink by Jonathan Morgan and Sipho Madini is the ultimate page-turner.
Imagine a crash course in South African history presented as a Shawshank Redemption-like, jailhouse-rock prison thriller. Imagine a book, the Pure White Book, written in closely guarded code, to all extents invisible, because it is written with white ink on pure white pages. A book that no one can see or hold in their hands, which has been passed down orally by gangs in South African prisons, from generation to generation.
Welcome to Picketberg Prison and to the historic moment in time when the ganglord keepers of the code, for their own reasons, decide to publish the entire Pure White Book.
Two prisoners, neither of them gangsters, find themselves drawn into this project as ghost-writers. They are Sipho Madini – a street kid and gifted writer and poet – wrongfully imprisoned for burglary. And Don February, in his late sixties, who grew up in District 6 as a young gangster but who has since distanced himself from a gangster identity.
Don, who did time on Robben Island in the 1970s, when it was still called “the University”, has made it his mission to transform this backwater prison into a place of higher learning. Even the gangsters begin to show interest in Don’s weekly discussion groups which deal with the themes of colonisation, dispossession and slavery. Through this process they begin to interrogate their own gang histories, inscribed on their bodies in the form of tattoos, and their own stories begin to unfold and weave in ways they never could have predicted.
This is the story of two men’s efforts not only to survive harsh prison conditions but to bring mental freedom and higher consciousness to the other inmates, challenging them to ask what the difference is between a freedom fighter and a common criminal.
About the authors
Jonathan Morgan has worked as a teacher, community vegetable gardener, clinical psychologist and most recently as a writer and editor of psychosocial materials for REPSSI (Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative). Jonathan lives in Cape Town with his wife Kyoko, his daughter Masego and his son Taiji. He loves cycling, hiking and surfing.
Sipho Madini was and is the central character in Finding Mr Madini. He was born in Kimberley and attended school until standard nine where he got distinctions for English and Afrikaans. As a nine-year-old he would rummage through the Vergenoeg municipal dump for discarded books. He dreamed of writing his own book someday as well as having it published. At the age of 16 he completed a book about taxi drivers, relationship problems, one-night stands and ghosts. This handwritten manuscript was placed into a big envelope and, from Kimberley, posted to a Johannesburg PO Box address that Sipho had found in a magazine. In 1997 Sipho followed his story to Johannesburg. His adventures there are well described in Finding Mr Madini. Sipho now works in Sebokeng as an electrical contractor. He lives with his girlfriend Maserame and their three-year-old baby girl Kegisaletse.