June 17, 2004

Robben Island

Today the foursome headed to the Island-turned-prison about 80KM off the coast of Capetown. Robben Island housed most of the political prisoners rounded up by the apartheid government from 1957 to '93.

Outside prison block A, where Mandella was held in the same 6x6 cell for 18 straight years.

It was pretty powerful, not only because its history is still fresh but because former prisoners themselves actually give the tours. Most of these men were jailed on the mere suspicion that they would be a threat to the white regime and were detained without trial and often without a fixed length to their sentence (Patriot Act anyone?). Most were allowed 2 visitors per year, and 12 letters which were heavily censored. In some cases the prison censors actually mimicked the handwriting of loved ones and feigned divorce, etc.

The guides - as you might imagine - were incredibly passionate. All were reticent on one feeling: not to hold grudges against their captors, almost pleading with the tourists that violence cannot build anything, only destroy. hmmmmmm....
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