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?