Day 19, Cape Town- it was a quiet morning, relaxing around the apartment. We decided to head down to the V & A Waterfront early for our 3:00 pm ferry trip out to Robben Island. Success!! I got the last Fitbit at the V & A Clicks store.
The featured photo was taken of the last boat load of released prisoners from Robben Island Maximum Security Prison in 1991. From 1961 the maximum security prison housed criminals and political prisoners, by the 1980’s it housed male political prisoners only. 70% of the political prisoners were educated men; doctors, lawyers and teachers that had stood up to apartheid. The prisoners were made to work in a lime pit daily, many suffered from permanent eye damage and illness from prolonged exposure to the lime and sun. There is a small cave in the lime pit where prisoners could find some shade to eat and illicitly teach the uneducated prisoners to read and write. The cave was referred to as Robben University. Three former inmates have become President of South Africa: Nelson Mandela, Kgalema Motlanthe and the current President Jacob Zuma.
Our prison guide had been incarcerated in Robben Island Maximum Security Prison for 5 years at the age of 20. When asked how he felt about Mandela’s government of reconciliation, he said that he “just couldn’t get his head around the idea of a rainbow nation”. That reconciliation was a white concept and at the time he was bitter. He said, “over the years he has come to understand that the concept is like love. If you can’t show or give love then you won’t get love. If you can’t show your humanity through reconciliation, treating people as humans like you, then they will never move to your side.”
Since the island prison and most buildings are now museums, they have had some of the past prisoners post comments on prison life in their cells. Prisoners were put in groups A through D depending on their behavior. Each group had varying privileges, such as letters, visits, toiletries and outdoor time. Food quality and quantity was also allocated according to group.
Mandela was incarcerated here for 18 years. Below is a photo of his cell and exercise yard.
The island has a small village that is inhabited by ex-guards and past inmates, along with their families. According to out guide they get along. There was also a leprosy colony established on the island during the 1800’s. Such a sad place!
It’s a good thing that we spied a little penguin colony to make us smile again.
Back to Cape Town for dinner and a cab ride home. We just didn’t have the energy to deal with the bus this evening.