Robben Island Christmas cake
(11 Dec 2013)

 Robben Island Christmas cake

 Recipe taken from Hunger for Freedom by Anna Trapido

The monotony of the Robben Island diet was occasionally broken by the observance of religious ritual. Those priests who were brought into minister to the prisoners were legitimately allowed to bring food items in honour of specific festivals. Many prisoners, Madiba included, developed fluid religious affiliations in order to take advantage of the temporary respite from prison food. Laloo Chiba, a fellow inmate to Nelson Mandela, recalled: ‘The authorities would come around and say, “How many people are observing Eid?” And hell, everybody was suddenly converted or Hinduism or Islam or whatever it was, including Madiba and Walter Sisulu! Madiba genuinely respected all religions and he did use to attend all types of service so it was a show of respect for other people’s religion, not just about the food. But we were all born again quite often! Muslims, Christians, Hindus: we were everything! While most of the food for ecclesiastical eating came in from the outside, there are rare examples of prisoners making their own festive food. In 1978 Laloo Chiba took on the role of Chrismas cake-maker. It was not a cake in the conventional sense of the word but all those who tasted it swear that it was delicious.


Christmas cake appeared for a second time in Madiba’s prison history. Estelle Brand, the wife of Christo Brand, a prison warden recalled that Christmas cake giving began by accident. Estelle’s husband was so proud of his wife’s culinary talents that ‘in 1985 in the cells Mandela gave me some fruit-cake that he ahad bought with his money but I said, “Mandela, your fruit-cake is not nice. It’s too dry. My wife makes nicer fruit-cake. I will bring you some.”And when I did he loved it, they all did, even Mr Kathrada, and then they all wanted her to make that fruit-cake for them. The Christmas cake giving has withstood political transition and is still a favourite of the former Pollsmoor inmates. Ahmed Kathrada recalls: ‘When we were in jail, Mrs Brand used to make me that cake every Christmas, since the mid- ‘80’s every year there has been cake. And then even when we got to Parliament she still baked it for me.

Serves 6-8


4 loaves Sasko white bread

10 Tbs cocoa powder

10 Tbs white sugar

200g currants or raisins

750ml Phuzamandla*


Bread the bread into pieces and place inside an old biscuit tin. Sprinkle with cocoa, sugar and currants. Soak in phuzamandla for at least 12 hours. After 6 hours place a food plate on top of the mixture and put a stone on top of the plate in order to weight down and compact the cake. Allow the cake to solidify overnight. Slice and serve.



Makes 1L


4 cups water

½ cup mielie meal

½ cup iron fortified sorghum

4 Tbs powdered yeast


Bring the water to the boil, add the mielie meal and sorghum, reduce the heat and simmer until cooked (about 30 minutes). Leave to cool. Add the yeast and mix well. Dilute with water to pouring consistency. Strain and drink.

christmas cake

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