When you're traveling with a group of 27 adults and teenagers, silence is rare. And so the hush that came over our group as we docked and approached the front gate on foot, was noticeable. It did feel like we were walking on holy ground as we reverently entered the prison yard. The island itself, a place that should have been overrun with the natural beauty of a coastal South African shangri la, felt somehow desolate; every pebble and blade of grass crying out with the voice of struggle.
In the accompanying photo (taken by John Hussey), our guide was explaining how the white warders (prison guards) tried numerous ways to divide the prison population against one another. One method was to give different meals to different "classes" of prisoners. The Indian and "colored" prisoners received better and more food than the Black Africans. This tactic also included prison clothes -- blacks were not given shoes; others were not.
|Nelson Mandela's cell at Robben Island.|
The most moving experience for me was simply walking in Mandela's shoes as we crossed the ground upon which he himself trod. Yes, this was a pilgrimage as we saw relics of his stay including the quarry where the political prisoners were forced to break up rocks and the cell in which the famous freedom fighter was held. A saintly aura filled the place even in its desolation and desperation.
|Stones of Remembrance.|
As Mandela himself once put it, "The names of those incarcerated on Robben Island is a roll call of resistance fighters and democrats spanning over three centuries. If indeed this is a Cape of Good Hope, that hope owes much to the spirit of that legion of fighters and others of their caliber."