29 Mar 2014

Robben Island, (Mandela's Prison), South Africa

By guest blogger, Allyn

 "During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this 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 to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

-Nelson Mandela during the Rivonia Trial 4/20/64


For almost 400 years, colonial and apartheid rulers banished those who would threaten their rule, including political prisoners, lepers, and others.

Upon arriving at Robben Island by a twenty minute ferry ride from Cape Town, visitors are greeted by an appropriate and meaningful sign:  “Freedom cannot be manacled.”   (A manacle is a shackle.)

Nelson Mandella spent 18 of his 27 years of incarceration on Robben Island after a trial that has come to be known as the Rivonia Trial, where Mandella and other political prisoners were sentenced to life in prison. 

Mandella’s crime?  He was a member of the African National Congress (ANC) and spent 20 years supporting the ANC’s methods including boycott, strike, civil disobedience and non-cooperation, with policy goals of full citizenship, redistribution of land, trade union rights, and free and compulsory education for all children.

Mandella’s pitiful 8X7 prison cell was where he called home for almost 18 years while he wrote such things as:

"Prison itself is a tremendous education in the need for patience and perseverance. It is above all a test of one's commitment."

 "Those who conduct themselves with morality, integrity and consistency need not fear the forces of inhumanity and cruelty."

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it....The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

Other political prisoners were housed 30 at a time in a room such as this, sleeping on a small piece of carpet.


No one ever escaped Robben Island.

In 1985, President P.W. Botha offered Mandela's release in exchange for renouncing armed struggle, which Mandella flatly rejected.  It wasn't until five years later when Botha suffered a stroke and was replaced that Mandela was finally released in 1990.   

The new president, Frederik Willem de Klerk removed restrictions on political groups, suspended executions and unbanning the ANC.

In 1993, Mandela and President de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work toward ending apartheid.

On April 27, 1994, South Africa held its first democratic election. Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as the country's first black president on May 10, 1994, at the age of 77, with the former President de Klerk as his first deputy.

On December 5, 2013, at the age of 95, Nelson Mandela died at his home in Johannesburg, South Africa. The South African President spoke to Mandela's legacy: "Wherever we are in the country, wherever we are in the world, let us reaffirm his vision of a society .. in which none is exploited, oppressed or dispossessed by another."

 "I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended."