The forms of resistance of these political prisoners included hunger strikes, the formation of clandestine prison cell and party structures, the holding of political discussions, the development of secret communication channels, the use of petitions and legal channels. In the single cells, the non-African prisoners, who received larger amounts of better quality food equally divided their rations among all inmates. This was a direct violation of prison rules. In 1973, two prisoners Sonny Venkatrathnam and Kader Hassim took legal action against the prison authorities challenging the merit of warders to place prisoners in solitary confinement without a hearing and to arbitrarily withdraw a day’s meal. Their legal action also asserted, that study and recreational activities were rights, and not privileges as claimed by the warders. They were successful in their first challenge and thus changed the power relations between prisoners and warders. At all times, the prisoners ensured that their struggles for improved conditions and better treatment, was publicised to the external world.
Prisoners conducted formal and informal educational sessions to increase their educational standards. They held highly successful literacy campaigns to ensure that no man would leave the Island unable to read or write, and through these efforts were able to wipe out illiteracy amongst prisoners in four (4) years. Educational classes on all subjects, biology and history amongst them were conducted in the quarries while the prisoners were made to work there.
They also formed sports organisations as a means of safeguarding their physical and mental health. In Addition to this, the prisoners continued to organise political structures, illegally collect and disseminate news and explicitly and implicitly train and prepare prisoners to continue their political activism when they were released. Illegal activities like the political writings of leaders were circulated amongst prisoners; and political discussions were conducted, for example during lunch time.
The resistance of the prisoners paid off and bore the fruit they desired. Prison conditions improved, the treatment of prisoners gradually became more humane and the power of warders to arbitrarily mete out punishments was diminished. The prisoners themselves developed as individuals and as political activists; and political organisations were strengthened and developed. The survival and growth of the prisoners, through their acts of resistance, defeated the apartheid government’s aim of breaking them into submission, and thus weakened the government’s power to crush the opposition and resistance.