South Africa: Day 7 (Robben Island)

On our list of must do things in Cape Town was to go to Robben Island, since that's one of the sites we missed on our last trip. When we tried to book tickets online, it said they were all sold out. So we drove down to the Waterfront and crossed our fingers that we would be able to buy tickets in person. 

As we were walking near the docks, Rachel and Lucy said it felt just like our trip to Alaska. Except for the part that there weren't elephants in Alaska: 

We went to the Nelson Mandela Gateway and were able to get tickets for the 1:00 pm departure. We later found out that tickets are often sold out for seven to ten days in advance.

All passengers were required to go through security. Steve and I both beeped like crazy, but nobody actually bothered to do anything about it, so I'm not sure what the point of it was.

It was a good thing that we arrived early because that meant we got first pick of where to sit on the boat. We chose the outdoor seats at the back of the ferry. The sky looks blue from this picture, but there was a storm coming in on the other side. It was crazy windy. Adam and Kaleigh were loving it:

But Lucy. . . not so much. She is scared of boats and was near tears.

Adam entertained the other passengers with his version of "windsurfing". I will have to add the video later. 

After thirty minutes of bouncing up and down across the choppy water in Table Bay, we arrived at Robben Island:

Robben Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is three kilometers long and two kilometers wide. Located off the coast of Cape Town, it is best known as the location of Nelson Mandela's imprisonment. But the island has been used as a place for banishment, exile, and isolation since the 1600s. Dutch settlers were the first to use the island as a prison. Robben Island was later used as a leper colony, starting in the 1800s. Most significantly, however, was the maximum security prison for political prisoners from 1961 to 1991. In 1997, just one year after the medium security prison for criminal convicts was closed, the island was opened as a museum. 

Nelson Mandela spent 18 of the 27 years he served behind bars at Robben Island. Current South African president, Jacob Zuma, was also imprisoned there. If you watched the 2009 movie, Invictus, you may remember seeing the South African rugby team on a tour of Robben Island.

We separated into three different groups and boarded the tour buses: 

Our tour guide's knowledge of the island was impressive; he was not reciting a memorized script. 

This photo below shows the leper cemetery, which is located where the leper ward used to stand. There was no cure and little treatment for leperosy, so Robben Island was chosen because it was considered to be both secure and a good environment for care. The hospital was later burned down because it was believed to be contaminated, and they feared that it could make healthy visitors sick. 

In addition to be separated from all of the other people of the island, the lepers were also separated by gender, in attempt to prevent them from reproducing. Leperosy was greatly misunderstood, and they believed that any babies would be born with the disease. Despite their efforts to keep the men and women apart, 43 healthy babies were born to the lepers. They were taken by the government and placed for adoption on the mainland.  

This is the limestone quarry where political prisoners were forced to work. The limestone was initially used to pave the roads, but after six months, no more rocks were needed. Instead of ending the mining, they continued to use the quarry as punishment for the prisoners, eight hours a day, five days a week. The prisoners were closely monitored by guards who were ordered to shoot to kill if anyone attempted an escape.

Because of this, the prisoners used the cave, which can be seen on the lefthand side of the photo, to go to the bathroom. As you can imagine, this created a horrible smell, so the prison guards never went inside of the cave. This cave is considered to be the first democratic parliament of South Africa because the prisoners were able to secretly discuss politics without the guards hearing. Some parts of the constitution of South Africa were first discussed in this cave.  

The prisoners who worked in the limestone quarry were not given any protective eyewear or respiratory filters. Many of them, including Nelson Mandela, have severe medical problems because of their time spent working in the quarry.

This is the Garrison Church that was built by the Irish doctors who came to Robben Island to take care of the lepers. Built in 1841, it is the oldest building on the island and also caters to the rest of the island's workers and their families. Whenever a baby is born, the bell is rung in celebration. If the baby is a boy, a blue flag is raised; if the baby is a girl, a pink flag is raised. Couples are invited to get married or renew their vows at the church on Valentine's Day.

I took these pictures of the kids while everyone else was taking pictures of the African penguins:

Lucy found lots of these shells and really wanted to take one home. But since the island is a World Heritage Site, that was forbidden.

Our tour guide told us that he believes that Robben Island and Table Mountain are the only two places in the world where you can stand on one World Heritage Site and see another.

Robben Island's lighthouse was build on Minto Hill, which is the highest point on the island. But at 12 meters above sea level, it's really not much of a hill. The lighthouse is 18 meters tall and is the only South African lighthouse to use a flashing light instead of a revolving one.

This picture shows the Robert Sobukwe house on the left. Sobukwe was a university lecturer who became the first president of the Pan African Congress. He led a nationwide protest against the Pass Law, which required black people to carry a pass book with them at all times. Sobukwe was arrested and charged with incitement which came with a three-year prison term. On May 3, 1963, one day before his sentence was to end, the government passed the General Law Amendment Act, which allowed the Justice Department to detain political prisoners for one additional year. Sobukwe was transferred to Robben Island and detained there in solitary confinement for an additional three years. The procedure became known as the "Sobukwe clause", as he was the only person ever imprisoned under this act. His family was allowed to come and visit him on the island and they stayed for two weeks in the house seen in the back right. But they were only allowed to visit him for a few hours per day. The other buildings were used for the 28 German Shepherd dogs, which were brought to the island in 1976 for security purposes.

The Kramat is a sacred Muslim mosque. It was built in 1969 to honor Sayed Abdurahman Moturu, the Prince of Madura. Moturu, a Muslim leader, was exiled to the island in the 1740s and died there in 1754.

The bus portion of the tour moved fast, and I could barely keep up with taking pictures, so I asked Rachel to take some notes for me on her phone. I don't know if that was the best thing to do because then she was frantically worried about getting all of the details right and missed a lot of what she would have heard if she was just listening. But here are the rest of her notes: 

The post office has been open since 1941 and is still operational today. 

The youngest prisoner was 14 years old. 

There are lots of underground tunnels, including an underground hospital. But they aren't considered safe. 

There were some prisoners who attempted to escape from the island.

A woman swam from Robben Island to the mainland (seven kilometers) in under two hours with only one leg. 

The primary school was shut down last year by the Department of Education because there are currently only eleven families living on the island. So now the children who live on the island ride the boat to the mainland for school. Sometimes the ferry is canceled because of the wind and other weather. This happened last year when a matric student was writing his exams, so the military sent a helicopter to pick him up for school.

Before the tour concluded, our guide reminded us that Robben Island has seen serious brutality, but that it has come to symbolize the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. The prisoners were able to turn their hardships into a symbol of freedom and personal liberation.

With that on our minds, we went inside the maximum security prison, which was used for political prisoners. (The convicted criminals were kept in the medium security prison.)

Our tour of the prison was given by a former political prisoner named Jama Mbatyoti. He was imprisoned at Robben Island from 1977 to 1982 for his involvement in an anti-apartheid uprising at his university in Port Elizabeth. He spoke to us in a large concrete group cell, which housed 50 men.

There was a thin mat on the middle of the floor. The prisoners slept on those mats until 25 bunk beds were brought into each group cell by the Red Cross in 1978.

Rachel and Lucy were very attentive and really listened to everything. Adam never seems like he is paying attention, but his very appropriate questions indicated otherwise. 

We walked into the next building, with cell blocks on each side. We were allowed to walk in and out of the cells and read some of the stories, as shared by former prisoners. 

This belt was made by one of the prisoners out of fishing nets that washed up on the island. Prisoners collected the old nets and use the string to make belts. The leather part was made from old shoes and the copper was made at the blacksmith. 

The back corner of this outdoor courtyard was known as Mandela's Garden. He had a small garden and also used the area to hide newspapers and other information that was smuggled into the prison. 

Prisoners were only permitted one letter per month, and all correspondence was heavily censored. If a prisoner got sick and was sent to a hospital in Cape Town, he was mobbed upon his return for any snippets of news that he might have caught along the way. 

Then we walked into the final building and down a long corridor. This is the cell where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his life:

You can see his thin sleeping mat on the right side of the picture:

Everybody lined up and very solemnly took turns looking into the cell. I quickly took a picture of the girls:

Once we were outside, I took a happier picture of everyone with Jama:

After our tour of the maximum security prison, we were left to walk around by ourselves. We finally met up with a couple of kids who Adam had spotted when we first got on the boat. He quickly made friends with Sipe (8 years old) and Snow (5 years old). Their names are much longer than that, but we couldn't pronounce them very well.

They are from Durban. And I think Snow might have a promising future in the world of modeling. 

He became fast friends with Adam and Kaleigh. 

All of the kids were thrilled when Sipe and Snow's mom brought them to come sit by us on the boat. I was on Kaleigh duty, and Steve supervised the other five children. He gave them American coins and pulled out the iPad. I'm sure it was an entertaining sight for everyone else on the boat. 

They posed for a few more pictures before saying goodbye.

There may or may not have been a farewell kiss: 

And then we hurried into the gift shop before it closed because Steve wanted to buy a book about Nelson Mandela. It was crazy expensive and I tried to veto the purchase. But Steve said he really wanted to learn more about Nelson Mandela, and if he didn't buy and read it right then, it was unlikely to ever happen. So I am trying to forget how much it cost. 

Before we crossed the bridge on the Waterfront, we stopped to admire the Moyo Aquaponic System and Urban Farm. They had a pretty impressive setup. 

There was also a whole group of small little food stands with clever names like this one: 

Moyo has 6200 plants at the Waterfront. The system is powered by solar energy and the produce is used in their restaurants

I had to take a picture of this Swahili Proverb. In fact, I'm pretty sure I need to have it framed for my kitchen:

After we got back to the Waterfront, we went to the Greek Fisherman for dinner. It was just below 60 degrees, but everyone was bundled up like it was winter in New York City. The kids played right along and ordered hot chocolate. 

1 comment:

Kayli said...

I love the picture of your kids in their rain jackets with Sipe and Snow because it's so happy and colorful! And maybe this is weird, but I also think Lucy looks very pretty in the sad picture by Nelson Mandela's cell. And I love the name of that place- stop and eat or we'll both starve to death. Maybe you should consider changing the name of Sonora Grill... although it might not work just the same. I also want to learn more about Nelson Mandela, but I probably won't. The best movie about South Africa I've ever seen (and yes, one of the only, but still it's amazing) is called The Power of One. You've seen it right?