An Overcast Day at Robben Island
“While we will not forget the brutality of Apartheid, we will not want Robben Island to be a monument of our hardship and suffering. We would want it to be a triumph of the human spirit against the forces of evil. A triumph of of wisdom and largeness of spirit against small minds and pettiness; a triumph of courage and determination over human frailty and weakness; a triumph of the new South Africa over the old.” – Ahmed Kathrada
Just as most would think of the word “apartheid” synonymously to Africa, a visit to Cape Town would not be complete without an excursion to Robben Island, a place made famous mainly for housing political prisoners, the most famous inmate being Nelson Mandela. It was also interesting to learn that way before the Apartheid, Robben Island was part of Singapore and Malaysia’s history, seeing that our own political prisoners were sent there.
Now, the island houses a community of people who work on the island, including some past political prisoners who work now as guides.
There were couple things that left a deep impression not captured on photo because we were not allowed out of the bus during the first leg of the tour. One was the kennels of the guard dogs and how one single kennel was described to be larger than the single cells of the prisoners being held in maximum security.
The second, and most sobering, was the limestone quarry where the prisoners were made to work with the very basic tools, no protective gear, in the height of the sun. Even when the prisoners had collected the amount of limestone originally intended for building projects, they were still made to labour for no reason at all apart than as harsh punishment. The glare of the sun on the limestone is what damaged the eyes and tear ducts of many of the prisoners, and it is the reason why Nelson Mandela cannot tear when he is feeling great emotion.
On the walking part of the tour, which most of the photos below portrays, each group of visitors had an ex-political prisoner as a guide, which really added life into the whole excursion as he was able to describe life in the prison in great detail. How different each section’s living conditions were, from the barracks and maximum security cells to the food each prisoner was rationed (which can be seen in the blown-up chart as pictured).
As a personal experience though, it felt pretty surreal to visit the place and all its ghosts, I truly felt like I experienced and brought home a piece of history.
Overcast skies and a sombre topic only seemed to make it apt that I edited this in monochrome.