They Died Singing: A Historical Perspective in the Liberation of South Africa

Author Neo Lekgotla Laga Ramoupi with Grant Shezi at ANC Centenary Celebration in Bloemfontein, SA.

Robben Island Singers correspondent Neo Lekgotla Laga Ramoupi published an article in the South African magazine The Thinker about the role of music in the South African liberation struggle.

Download the article here (2.7MB PDF).

Prosser Career Academy & The Robben Island Singers

Chicago’s Prosser Career Academy high school has been a leader in providing students with cross-cultural experiences they might not otherwise be exposed to. In 2007, the school worked with Groundswell Educational Films to develop an educational curriculum around the program, and the relationship has been growing ever since. Watch video clips of Prosser engagements with the Robben Island Singers school program below:

Prosser Students Video Chat with the Robben Island Singers in 2010:

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South African Playwright Edmund Mhlongo Visits Prosser Students in 2010:

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The Robben Island Singers Visit Prosser in 2007:

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CBC’s “The Current” features The Robben Island Singers

On June 15, 2010 CBC’s radio show “The Current” ended its broadcast with a clip from The Robben Island Singers’ song, “Take Over.” Hear what host Anna Maria Tremonti had to say about the Singers:

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You can download the full song, “Take Over,” from or iTunes.

Ex-Robben Island Prisoners Recall Their Own World Cup Soccer League in Prison

If the spectacle of World Cup Soccer in South Africa inspires you, a new film by ESPN, titled Outside The Lines, will make your day. Outside the Lines is a remarkable short film that reveals a little known chapter in the history of South Africa.

Did you know that political prisoners at Robben Island Maximum Security Prison created their own league including hand-sewn uniforms, hand-made trophies and original cheers? Two of the Robben Island Singers, Munt and Grant, played in this league. Their team was called Jaws. The loudest cheerleaders on the sidelines were known as howlers. The film weaves interviews with gritty reenactments and gorgeous location cinematography. Watch it to see how political prisoners from Robben Island can inspire the world.

Visit our project website for more about our own documentary, Robben Island Singers.

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Chicago Public School Students “Host” Robben Island Singers via Skype Video Chat

Flip video shot by Groundswell intern Candyce Jones.

Groundswell co-founder Jeff Spitz recently screened a rough cut of Robben Island Singers at Prosser Career Academy High School on Chicago’s West Side. Thirty-five students watched the film and then were able to ask questions to singers Muntu Nxumalo and Thembinkosi Sithole in South Africa via Skype.

Students said they liked going back and forth from South Africa to the US and having a live conversation with the ex-political prisoners. They liked the “real lives” theme of the film.

“Both sides liked the way that stereotypes in both countries are broken down by music, film, and international exchange,” Spitz said.

Students said they appreciated the chance to see a film work-in-progress.

“Kids did not want a shorter version, because they want to experience the whole journey of the singers,” Spitz added. “They understand the message about forgiveness and they discussed the fact that the Singers did not choose to become fighters, rather that conditions led them to fight for a higher cause. For freedom and equality.”

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Amnesty International Fest Hosts Robben Island Singers Focus Group Screening

Above: Jerry Blumenthal of Kartemquin Films and Jeff Spitz, Executive Director of Groundswell sit on a panel discussion about documentary and social change.

Groundswell co-founder Jeff Spitz presented a rough cut screening of our upcoming documentary “Robben Island Singers” at the Amnesty International Human Rights Art Festival on April 24th. It was the first time a rough cut has been publicly screened and was met with a very positive reaction from the audience.

The rough cut, now 97 minutes long, spurred a lively conversation afterward as Spitz sat on a panel to discuss it. “I took 3 pages of notes,” Spitz said. “This is the kind of conversation I hoped for, it was very helpful.”

Afterward, the audience was eager to discuss the over-arching themes presented in the film: apartheid, violence, forgiveness and self-actualization in two very different worlds: South Africa and America. The film tracks the journeys of three South African ex-political prisoners once imprisoned with Nelson Mandela after fighting Apartheid.

The singers have brought their message and the music that sustained them while in prison to American schools in a revolutionary cultural exchange program. More information can be found at the project’s website,, which also offers their music for purchase or download.

Download The Robben Island Singers Music From CD Baby!

We just put up The Robben Island Singers albums Songs from South Africa’s Freedom Struggle and Stories from South Africa’s Freedom Struggle on CD Baby!

You can download individual tracks or full albums, and preview them before downloading.

The Robben Island Singers are three ex-political prisoners who were once imprisoned with Nelson Mandela in South Africa’s most notorious Apartheid prison. Now they’re working in inner-city schools to spread the lessons they learned from their own struggle to youth. You can download the music from their struggle as featured in the upcoming documentary about their incredible journey.

Robben Island Singers Form New Company in South Africa

September 18, 2009 — Pretoria, South Africa. Groundswell Co-Founders and The Robben Island Singers have incorporated a new company in South Africa called Groundswell Cultural Activists CC.  The new company will book Robben Island Singers concerts, film screenings and education programs in South Africa and manage school exchanges between South African and American youth.   Our initial focus is to promote the Robben Island Singers as part of the cultural and heritage programming during World Cup soccer tournament in South Africa 2010.  Members include Muntu Nxumalo, Grant Shezi, Thembinkosi Sithole, Jeff Spitz and Jennifer Amdur Spitz.

What Teachers Say About The Robben Island Singers

Chicago-area teachers and administrators love The Robben Island Singers school program.

Phillips High School principal Euel Bunton had this to say after Robben Island Singer Grant Shezi visited his school:

“You promised that this would be a memorable experience, and it truly was. Grant Shezi’s personal testimony was compelling and credible to our students. He struck a cord with students when he identified self control as the character trait that enabled him to overcome the desire for revenge and violence. Many, many more of our youth desperately need to hear this man and his message. I wholeheartedly endorse efforts to bring The Robben Island Singers to the Chicago Public Schools on an expanded basis.”

CPS Director of Policy and Program Development Diane Fager says:

“Looking at the lessons learned in South Africa, the Robben Island Singers offer students a third dimension to reflect, and a new light to examine their own experience. Students are invited to express their revelations through the arts, and the Robben Island Singers help students learn to facilitate a new dialog in their own communities. Sure their curriculum lines up with state learning standards in many subject areas, but the Robben Island Singers are much more than that. They teach students to think critically about what they have learned; to communicate their ideas to one another across cultures using visual, performing or media arts; and that they have the power to organize and mobilize their communities towards a better future.”

Check out what students have to say about The Robben Island Singers school program.

What Students Say About The Robben Island Singers

Charles, from Kenwood Academy High School enjoyed The Robben Island Singers visit to his school:

“I’m not from a prestigious neighborhood. I’m from what you would maybe call a bad neighborhood. So these singers were a real inspiration. Their songs signify hope.”

Jasmine from Michelle Clark High School has this to say about The Robben Island Singers when they visited her school:

“This whole experience, I am just overwhelmed by it. I love the entire notion of history and heritage and getting to know it and actually playing a part in it. I believe we are kind of making history right now.”

Here are some questions that students have asked The Robben Island Singers when they do Q&A sessions in classrooms:

• Is there ever a time you regret standing up for your beliefs because of the consequences that followed?

• How old were you when you went to prison?

• You all have become an inspiration to many young people today. Who inspires/inspired you to fight against injustice?

• At what point in your struggle did you feel that your anger and pain should have been replaced by action and a revolution through song?

• Do you feel that it frees you to forgive someone who has wronged you?

• Did you find it difficult to re-adjust to freedom when you got out?

• Did a lot of ex-prisoners have trouble getting jobs after they were freed because they had to leave High School?

• How much racism is still left in South America even after apartheid?

• Do you think that your message is ignored by people who don’t acknowledge the past?

• Will you guys be back next year?

Check out what teachers have to say about The Robben Island Singers school program.