Monday, March 12, 2012

Robben Island

All I knew about Robben Island was that it was the location where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for speaking out against apartheid.  That's it!  That's all I knew!

I know a little more now, mostly due to this man.
He was one of the many political prisoners incarcerated on Robben Island between 1964 and 1991. He was working as a rally organizer for the ANC (African National Congress) in his early 20s and was kidnapped, beaten and tortured before being taken to Robben Island where he spent 5 years of his life.  He spoke to us of the 4 most important things that he and his fellow inmates did to keep themselves sane and focused on their purpose:  1. Political classes 2. Reading the newspaper 3. Cultural and artistic expression through dance and song 4. general education (from learning to read and write to completing bachelor degrees).
About 30 men would be in a room like this in Section F.   
I learned that the leading members of the South African political parties were kept in small cells (about 2x2m), and only let out to have a small bit of exercise in the garden or to work in the lime quarries on the island.  Nelson Mandela was one of these men.
Nelson Mandela's cell in block B 
It was interesting to us that the people who were considered the most dangerous and kept in isolation were not the murderers and thieves (kept in another prison on the island), but the educated leaders of the anti-apartheid parties, those who could intelligently speak out against the atrocities of the National Party and inspire people to fight against their Apartheid Policies.
Limestone quarry where men were forced to do hard labour
under the very hot sun without any protection.  There is a cave
in the picture where classes were taught out of site of the guards.

I learned that the anti-apartheid struggle was not a war between black and whites, but a war against a system.  A system that, brought in by the National Party in 1948 separated people into 4 groups according to their skin colour and levels of "civilization";  African, Coloured People, Indians and Whites.  Different laws applied to each group and those laws were decidedly unequal.  Those of non-European decent were not allowed to vote, study or allowed any freedom (they had to carry Pass Cards, recording everywhere they went and not allowing them to be out past 8:00pm).

I didn't expect my visit to Robben Island to effect me as much as it did.  I'm so glad we went!!

1 comment:

  1. I am so glad you went. What a great lesson to learn in humanity - and how to do it wrong!