Sunday, August 15, 2010

Imagining Mandela - Part 3: Robben Island

What can one write about Robben Island? It housed hundreds if not thousands of political prisoners throughout the Apartheid. It sits more than a 30 minute ferry ride away from the mainland. Barely visible from the Waterfront. It is both beautiful and haunting.

The Harrington's tour began with a guide name Craig who spoke with passion and wisdom about the prisons history and inmates. He explained to guests not only the textbook history of Apartheid but also imparted the beautiful and not so beautiful truths of the legacy left by Apartheid. He talked of the deeply ingrained fears that still lurk beneath the surface of whites towards coloreds, coloreds toward blacks and all manner of combinations. He talked of the psychological impact Apartheid made on his nations people. Apartheid wasn't simply the separation of people based on the color of their skin, but a process of creating mistrust and fear among the people groups so they would "naturally" separate themselves - believing that was the safest option. This he said, is still evidenced by the way life continues in South Africa.

But Craig also told the story of forgiveness and reconciliation. He spoke of the nations desire to "Forgive, but never forget." To hold on to the lesson of the past. To avoid such a catastrophy in the future. To forfiet seeking revenge and choosing rather to look past the color of ones skin and offer forgiveness and move toward renewal and reconciliation.

Following the island tour with Craig, guests were then introduced to their prison guide. Each prison guide on Robben Island was at some point, a political prisoner. Therefore, each tour is not merely the history of the island but more importantly the personal story of an individual prisoner. Our guide showed us the various cells were prisoners continued to be separated and treated differently based on the color of their skin - receiving more or less food and other amenities based on that color. The tour showcased their sleeping mats, the coutyard, various prison cells which included stories of prisoners who stayed their and of course Nelson Mandela's cell.
The entire experience and the entire day left the Harrington's contemplating a number of things: forgiveness, hatred, racism, reconciliation, peace, and in general; how to live as responsible members of this planet.
Cell Hallway
Returning to the mainland

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