Beautiful hues of blue danced across Table Bay as we were ferried to the place where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of political imprisonment. It was a fairly chilly ride, perhaps a foreboding sense of the isolation, abandonment, and imprisonment that was felt by many who were transported to Robben Island throughout the years. Upon arrival, though, I was struck by the message that greeted us as we pulled into Murray’s Bay Harbor: “FREEDOM CANNOT BE MANACLED!”
The video below shows the highlights of our tour. Jama, our tour guide, was a former political prisoner at Robben Island. He explained how the prisoners themselves built the prison. I was surprised to learn that it had been previously used as a leper colony.
Viewing Nelson Mandela’s cell, and even standing at the window, was powerful. Most of the original items were kept in the cell, but someone stole his spoon a few years ago so his cell is now locked.
The tour ended with a bus ride to the lime quarry where the prisoners spent hours of hard labor and persevered to continue their education with an “each one, teach one” philosophy. Robben Island is now a miniature town with houses, a post office, a school, and a church. Some of the former prisoners, including Jama, currently live in the former prison guard houses. I found this to be an interesting twist to an island storied with a history of squashing freedom. Once again, I was struck by the power of the welcoming slogan.