A Travellerspoint blog

Robben Island

We headed back to Cape Town yesterday morning and managed to successfully navigate to Victoria Warf. Our timing was great and we caught the ferry out to the island. Robben Island is home to the prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his life. He and other leaders were kept in solitary confinement. Other political prisoners where housed in dorm style cells. 40 people per cell. The establishment tried to undermine their commitment to end apartheid by missing blacks, indians and colourds together. Indians and colourds were issued long pants and shoes plus they got better food including some meat and bread. Blacks were only given short pants, no shoes and a kind of bean mush for meals. In this way they thought they would create in fighting among the men. However, prisoners knew what they were trying to do. So they all decided to share all the food, clothes equally.

The men worked 8 hours a day, 5 days a week in the lyme Quarry. They broke large stones to small and then made a huge pile. Once that was done, the guards would have them move the pile to a different location in the quarry. A few days later they would have it moved to another location. A few days later....they would move it back to where they started. They worked them doing pointless things to show them what they were doing was useless. Little did the guards know that it was in this quarry, in a cave where the men were allowed to relieve themselves and eat, that they began to write what would become the new constitution of South Africa.

On Saturdays they were allowed to exercise in the tennis court. To stay in touch with their commerades in the dorm cells, they would stuff a note into a tennis ball and then accidentally hit a foul ball into their compound area. The prisoners would then remove the note and return the empty ball to the guards. The men were also allowed to study through correspondence course. Many of them got degrees while in prison. Some came into prison illiterate but as Mandela said "each one teach one" and so they did teaching each other to read and write as needed.

Mandela actually wrote 2 manuscripts while in prison. The first he was able to smuggle out with a lawyer who took it to England and had it published. The 2nd manuscript was discovered and destroyed. He was punished by being denied any study for 4 years. In total, Mandela spent 27 years in prison. One of the founding principle that he and his co-leaders in the fight against apartheid agreed must be followed was to forgive for the sake of peace. He knew when apartheid ended if there was bitterness and anger his country would never recover and become unified. Our guide was a former prisoner, he said they all understood that when the time came they had to lead the people with open hearts and forgiving spirits. While the slave castles in Kenya felt hopeless and shameful. This place does not have a feel of sorrow or bitterness about it. It was interesting, the difference....still prison, not a place you would want to be ever, but somehow hopeful.

The ferry back about did Dean and I in. Waves, rolling waves...but we made it. The temperature dropped to maybe high 40.s with some rain. We had a hot meal in a little tavern, did a little shopping and headed to the hotel for the night.

Posted by Anadean 08:56

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