Robben Island

On my last day in Cape Town I took a ferry and visited Robben Island.  Robben Island is the place where the South Africa apartheid regime held its political prisoners, including its most famous one- Nelson Mandela.  First it was an island settled by the Dutch for keeping slaves.  Then it was a leper colony, as well as an island for the mentally ill to be banished from regular society.  Then it was a station for the British against Germany during World War II.  Finally, it was a place for political prisoners who dared to challenge the system.

I walked the grounds.  I stood inside Nelson Mandela’s tiny cell.  I listened as our guide, an ex-political prisoner, told us what it was like.  He emphasized that they wanted Robben Island to reflect the triumph of freedom and human dignity over oppression and humiliation rather than a place of despair.  It was surreal.

A plaque on one of the walls had a quote by Nelson Mandela at his trial in 1964.  It read, “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to the struggle of the African people.  I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.  I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.  It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve.  But, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

If needs be, what are we prepared to die for?

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