Mandela on Robben Island

Today, we made the morose pilgrimage to Robben Island. Ever since Europeans first started coming here, they have used this island, 6 miles or so from Cape Town, as a place of exile or a prison for their enemies, of which there have been many. The original inhabitants, each other, lepers, and most recently political prisoners have been held here by the Dutch, then English, then Afrikaners. For the duration of the 30 minute ferry ride out to the island, we were bludgeoned with a video recording the endless chain of horrible events on Robben Island during the sorry history of colonization and general European assholeness.

Upon arrival, we were herded onto buses for a drive around the island, looking at a bunch of nothing, the highlight of which was a great view of Cape Town and Table Mountain. Then we were dropped off in front of the prison proper where we were met by a former prisoner who showed us around the cells and described the dismal conditions. And of course, Mandela, Mandela, Mandela.

Had to go

The best part of the excursion was a discussion we had with a white South African policeman from inland somewhere making his first visit to the island with his family. He was sitting next to us on the boat back. He was 19 when he started and was trained to capture dissidents and in riot control. Just doing his job, not making policy. He is English, it was the Afrikaans who were running apartheid. Life was better before, now there is crime everywhere. No, really, even the townships were safe. We all have to live with ourselves. He did bring up that his family has benefited from white privilege, and said Mandela handled the transition very graciously without seeking revenge.

Back at the Cape Town dock, we had an excellent lunch at a Turkish restaurant before dragging ourselves back home.

All in all, we regret wasting this day going to Robben Island. On the plus side, we didn’t get seasick!