Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Robben Island

The entrance to Robben Island

Robben Island is a little wind-swept island in Table Bay just a short ferry ride from Cape Town.  For more than 300 years the island was used as a prison, mainly for political prisoners.  Notably, Nelson Mandela spent eighteen of his twenty-seven years of imprisonment at Robben Island.  Hundreds of other political prisoners also spent time at Robben Island during the apartheid era.

A former apartheid-era political prisoner, Zozo, guided us through the maximum-security prison.  After visiting Mandela's cell and the prison yard, Zozo took us to his old cell block and gave us a sense of what life was like at Robben Island.  He showed us where he slept on a mattress on the cement floor and the communal bathroom that had nothing but ice cold water.  The island is completely exposed to gusts of Antarctic winds from the south, and it certainly looked as if it was a very cold and miserable place.  Without a doubt, it played a tremendous role in shaping the course of modern South Africa.

Zozo standing in front of the door to Nelson Mandela's cell

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