Today was the day we went to Robben Island. If you don’t know, Robben Island was where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of his total 27 years. Robben comes from the Dutch word for “seal” because there are many seals that live around the water of the island. It has since been made into a museum after Nelson ended apartheid and became president of South Africa in 1994. We took a big boat out to the island. It is about 8 miles off the coast of Cape Town. You can literally see the city and mountains from Robben Island, which is pretty cool. So when we got there, we went with our guide. Interestingly enough, all of the tour guides and workers on Robben Island are former Robben Island prisoners. Our tour guide was a Robben Island inmate from 1983 to 1990, so he was with Nelson Mandela while in prison. In Robben Island, there were different classes of prisoners. A, B, C, all the way down to G. A’s were on top and the G’s were on the bottom. And then within that class system, it went by color. Whites on the top, then colored’s, Indians, and blacks (Bantus) were always on the bottom. What I found interesting was that your common law prisoners weren’t in the maximum-security prison. People that committed robbery, assault, and murder weren’t considered maximum security. Instead, the maximum-security inmates included Nelson Mandela and other people fighting the fight for freedom.
So our tour guide took us around the RI prison. By the way it’s not just a prison it’s a community. There are churches, homes, and schools all on Robben Island. In the prison, we say the Section G room where Nelson Mandela spent time. We saw the beds that prisoners slept in and the cold and isolated living conditions. We went to RI on a pretty cold day and we were all dressed for the weather. So to imagine being a prisoner only wearing the allowed uniform (not very warm, no shoes) during the cold days and nights is pretty unbelievable. We then walked outside and saw the prison courtyard, which isn’t much of a courtyard. Then we walked to Mr. Mandela’s cell. The cells are lined the halls with one small window, a bed mat, a small table, and a bucket used for a toilet. This is where Nelson Mandela spent his 18 years. It was pretty overwhelming. After reading Long Walk To Freedom, the trip to Robben Island was all too realistic.
After the prison tour, we got on a bus for the tour around the rest of the island. We saw the “Leper Graveyard”, Robert Sobukwe’s house, schools that are actually still operating today, the first church built in Cape Town, the post office, and lots of community buildings around Robben Island. I got some really great pictures including the view of the Cape city from Robben Island. While on that island, you literally feel apart from the rest of the world. You feel separated from society. I can only imagine what it must have been like for prisoners like Nelson Mandela for that place to be your home away from home. The tour guides giving the tours did a great job at presenting their information. It was nice that I had read the book before visiting the island. It made the experience that much more meaningful and insightful to see what Mr. Mandela went through during those 18 years rather than just reading about it.