Maximum security section
Our prison guide
Postcard view of the island
had to visit Robben Island.
In the heat of the tourist season, the lines could take four
hours. Well, it wasn’t
tourist season. I walked
up to the ticket office, bought my ticket, and had just enough time
to go buy a pullover hat before getting on the boat.
you never heard of Robben Island, I wouldn’t expect you to admit to
that. This island, about
a 45-minute ride from Capetown, had a varied history over the past
500 years. Early explorers
used it as a grocery stop. They
were afraid of the mainland people, so they stopped on the island
to kill seals and penguins.
At one point, the island was estimated to have had one million
penguins. I saw several
penguins but no seals. Interestingly
enough, the name of the island came from the Dutch word for seal.
place was used as a leper colony, a military base in World War II,
but it was most noted as the island prison for those who opposed Apartheid.
Nelson Mandela’s cell was the main attraction. But, there were other prisoners who lived there up to twenty-seven
was so amazing was how inspiring the place was.
Yes, the government permitted horrible things to be done to
the prisoners. We were
told of hard labor in the quarries, starvation, cold, humiliation,
rape, and isolation. But, the prisoners overcame all of that.
And, their story was the final victory in the chapter of Robben
Island’s prison history.
guide was himself a prisoner of Robben Island for seven years.
He spoke of how the government planned to let the prisoners
kill themselves. They
put every group, faction, and tribe thrown together in one compound.
Instead of killing each other, these men learned to listen.
They debated, argued, but eventually came to respect one another.
Then, they worked together to help everyone, including the
prison guards, better themselves. Nelson
Mandela said that Robben Island should become a university.
Prisoners who arrived not being able to read were tutored. Some prisoners earned college degrees while there.
The seeds for democracy, understanding, and tolerance were
planted in the most unlikely soil.
|Copyright 2010 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.|