The Prisoner Mandela’s cell, Robben Island, South Africa

After so many trips to Africa, I have always wanted  to take the boat out to Robben Island to see the prison that housed Nelson Mandela. Our guide for the tour was an equally amazing man. Kgotso Ntsoelengoe was his name. He too was held prisoner here. He was locked up for over 7 years. He has had to put many of the haunting memories behind him, because today he works with many of the guards that mistreated him here when he was their prisoner.

He showed us the solitary confinement cell that held Mandela for 18 years. This was Mandela’s cell below. The sparse cell did not even have a bed. It only contained  a mat and some coarse blankets.  Confined to this  small jail cell, the floor was his bed, a red bucket was his toilet for relieving himself, his sink to wash his dish and cup… and the tub to bathe his body and his clothes.

This small cell housed him in solitare for 17 years of his life. It would be hard to  imagine the indignity.  He could only receive one visitor each year. He could write and receive only one letter every 6 months.

But even more amazing… Robben Island became his “crucible” which transformed him. Even with all this unfair treatment, he emerged from it as the mature leader. He gave forgiveness to his oppressors and  would fight and win the great political battles necessary to create a new democratic South Africa.

This larger room shown here was where Kgotso Ntsoelengoe was locked up with 15 other men. The fights and boredom were the only constant. The prison did not even have glass in the windows until the later years which made it almost unbearable during the cold wet winters. With only a thin blanket to cover themselves they were constantly cold.

I was amazed at the difficulty that this was for all these  men who wanted to be equal under the law. But all through the tour,  Kgotso was gracious and talked about how South Africa had to forgive to move ahead. He was truly a testiment of forgiveness for all the suffering that he endured under Apartheid.

This was another adventure I could take off of my bucket list.

The only way off the island was on a boat. No one had ever survived the swim across seven miles of ocean to make it to shore. The distance, cold, sharks and rough water made it almost impossible.

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