We are absolutely enjoying the glorious Cape Town, and yesterday, we went on the tour to visit Robben Island. The island, 11.4km from Cape Town, has a long history of being used mainly to isolate and imprison political prisoners. Three of South Africa’s presidents were former inmates on Robben Island, including its first black president, Nelson Mandela.
Once we arrived onto the island, the first part of our tour was a guided bus ride around the island – learning about its history, taking in its geography, listening to the stories of famous inmates who suffered and lived in various buildings. Joshua was attentive to these stories and understood to a certain degree that prisoners were trapped in prison and did not have their freedoms.
The second part of the tour was the most fascinating. It involved walking inside the maximum security prison blocks guided by a former political prisoner. Our guide was a tall old gentle man on a crutch. When asked how long he was on Robben Island, his humble reply moved me: “I was only here for 5 and a half years for high treason.”
I guess compared to Nelson Mandela’s 18 years and those who died on the island, 5+ years was a sprinkle in the sand. But in my view, it doesn’t dismiss the fact that he was imprisoned on this terrible island for fighting a righteous and just cause he believed in. Him being back on the island to show and tell us stories about the anti-apartheid movement and his time on Robben Island really was the epitome of the island’s motto now: “the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, suffering and injustice”.
At the end of the tour, when we were saying our thanks and farewell to our ex-political prisoner guide, Joshie having absorbed the sordid prison environment we just toured through, boldly asked:
“Why did you have to come to this prison?”
Our guide replied simply: “I was here because I was fighting the system of Apartheid.”
Joshua, being ever curious, continued to ask innocently: “So, which team won?”
His demeanor immediately changed from the serious guide who just shared miserable accounts of prison life to someone with a deep bellowing laugh and sparkle of life in his eyes. Our guide was extremely amused by Joshua’s innocence. He lifted his arm and opened his hand: “Hahhahaa…..high five my boy!” He chuckled.
Then he bend down to Joshie’s eye level, looked him in the eye, smiled and exclaimed: “Our team won!”
It was such a sweet moment. Here was an old man who has experienced so much suffering, adversity and injustice in his own lifetime that we cannot begin to fathom, being reminded by an innocent little boy that he won his fight for freedom – that his team, was victorious!
I was extremely moved by their little exchange, and being inspired by this sense of victory, I also proudly remarked that: “Yes!! This man, his team won the fight!!“