February 23rd 2007
Journal entry brought to you by Sophie
So today was the day that we were finally going to experience the tour of Robben Island. Excitingly we took a rikki (due to Jon's recommendation - good call mate!) down to the Waterfront (a rikki being a small yellow, open backed taxi that careers round corners at high speeds), mainly because we got up late and then arrived perfectly on time to get on the ferry. A journey meant to take half an hour developed into an hour's boat ride over to the island. I am not suprised they cancelled it the day before because there was absolutely no wind on the mainland and the boat trip was a bit rocky. Me, being the wimp that I am, took shelter indoors half way through and Tami braved the weather outside.
The tour itself consists of a bus tour which takes you around the main sights of the island. It didn't even cross my mind that we would be doing this, I just thought we walked around on our own. Our tour had a free crying Norwegian baby thrown in which was completely annoying (oh god, I am starting to sound like my mother...). However the tour itself was brilliant and really enjoyable. We were shown the limeston quarry where Nelson Mandela was forced to work for 13 years. The stone is so white that it damaged his eyes so no photographer is allowed to use flash for fear of damaging his eyes further. Interestingly the prisoners often left the island with a better education than if they had stayed on the mainland and Mandela himself lectured the guards so that they too also left with a better education. He preached that the prisoners should not hate the guards for what they were doing because it was there job but instead help educate them and create harmony.
We also passed the lepers graveyard. For a period of time Robben Island was used as a colony for lepers as they were seen as the untouchables of society. No leper ever left the island alive.
As far as I can remember the British were also the first nationality to try and escape from the island. Go the British!!!!!
Finally we arrived at the Maximum Security Prison where we would fine Nelson Mandela's cell. We swapped guides and were led by a former political prisoner that had been held there for five years. When asked if it was painful for him to go back he said that it was at first but that he has gradually got used to it. He told us how they used to censor the post to the prisoners so if they felt that a letter was too controversial and contained information they would cut the whole letter up and give the recipient only the beginning and the end of the letter. In this way, he said, this office could psychologically torture them. Many of the young men that were recently married would often receive a letter from their wives asking for a divorce. These were actually forged by the post office to break their spirits.
Next we were shown to a small courtyard where the prisoners, imprisoned from the 60's would spend their time digging or sewing. Over the fence was a tennis court for those imprisoned from the 70's. They were kept separate so the older prisoners would not be able to influence them. Instead they would send tennis balls over the fence with secret messages in so they could communicate.
Last of all we were shown Nelson Mandela's cell. Cell number 5. A tiny little room with a blanket on the floor to sleep on and some shelves to keep his books on. There was no toilet and the prisoners were forced to do their business in a small bucket from when they were locked up at 3 in the afternoon until they were let out at 7.
All the prisoners lost their identities as soon as they landed on the island and were instead issued with a number. Nelson was 466/64 as he was the 466th prisoner of 1964.
The whole experience was really harrowing but informative. I learnt such a lot as you can tell and was really glad we managed to go. It was unbeliavble to take in that Nelson Mandela was imprisoned longer than I have been alive.
The rest of the day passed quickly. We ate, went to the internet cafe, then played some cards with Matt, then went to bed. Yey!
Hope you are all well.