Thursday, April 14, 2011

Robben Island

The tour of Robben Island was educational on many levels. The conditions of life as a prisoner on that island are well described in Nelson Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. Seeing the cell blocks,

Mandela's Cell

Bunks in Group Cell

exercise yard,

"Staged" Exercise Yard for the Media

rock quarries where prisoners labored,

Pile of Rocks Started by Mandela and Added to by Former Prisoners

and hearing from an ex-inmate about his time spent there, helped to clarify how the struggle for basic human rights and dignity went on also behind the prison's bars.

Our guide was Derrick Bessom.

A Wonderful Man

He was sent to RI at the age of 18. He'd never been involved in a crime before, but when the ANC policy changed from non-violent resistance to planned violence and acts of sabotage, he became involved in the burning of the business office of a corrupt landlord. Derrick was sentenced to 3 years on RI for his crime.  When asked how he handled his anger, he said that if he were to hold onto anger, he would make himself the first victim, and the battle over right and wrong would be lost.

As we were leaving, Derrick confided  that it is sometimes difficult emotionally for him to recount to   the scores of daily visitors, his memories of that time. He was a soft spoken and gentle person.

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