News / Africa

Mandela Legend Grew At Robben Island

Mandela Legacy Grew at Robben Islandi
X
June 24, 2013 7:00 PM
President Barack Obama is expected to visit Robben Island during his stop in South Africa. The island has a long history as a place to put political prisoners. But for most people these days, it's best known as the place that held South African activist, and later president, Nelson Mandela. VOA's Mariama Diallo takes a look at Robben Island.
Mariama Diallo
President Barack Obama is expected to visit Robben Island during his stop in South Africa.  The island has a long history as a place to put political prisoners.  But for most people these days, it's best known as the place that held one of the most famous prisoners of the 20th century - South African activist, and later president, Nelson Mandela.  

Robben Island is located in the southwestern part of South Africa, a 17-hour drive from Johannesburg and just a few kilometers offshore from Cape Town.  It's a tourist attraction now - but its history as a place of oppression goes back centuries.  Professor Sulayman Nyang is with the African studies department at Howard University.

“I think it’s a very important way of keeping the memory alive," said Nyang. "Museums play a big role in doing that.... Robben Island experience is one of hundreds if not thousands around the world where human beings are trying to preserve the memories, the images, the objects that underscore the human experience."

Robben Island was used to hold political prisoners as far back as the 1600's.  But its modern reputation dates primarily to South Africa's apartheid era.

Carol Thompson, from Northern Arizona University in the United States, was an anti-apartheid activist during the 1960s.

“Robben Island is a symbol of oppression and just tremendous suffering by everyone who's been incarcerated there," said Thompson.  

By everyone, Thompson means a long list of political activists - including Jacob Zuma, the current South African president; Govan Mbeki, father of former president Thabo Mbeki; and Walter Sizulu, a former African National Congress activist.

Christo Brand was posted at Robben Island as a prison warden in 1978.  Having come from a rural farming background, he says he didn’t know much about one of the prison’s most famous inmates - Nelson Mandela.

“After a month and a half working in Robben Island, one of my uncles asked: have you seen Mandela?  I said yes, he is just a normal prisoner like the others.  Somebody special for me was Walter Sizulu," said Brand.  

Mandela spent decades in prison cell number 46664.  He was jailed in 1964 - tried for treason and sabotage - and sentenced to life in prison.

Yet, as Christo Brand told- it, he rose above his surroundings.

“I asked Mandela one question: don’t you hate the people of South Africa, what they've done to you? He said to me, ‘Mr. Brand, I can never hate white people; I can hate the system which was in place that put oppression and brainwashed the white people of South Africa because most of my friends are all white,'" said Brand.

Hlonipha Mokoena, an anthropology professor at Columbia University in New York, grew up in South Africa during apartheid.  She says Mandela was incarcerated for so long, she had no idea what the man looked like.

“As a child you create this image in your mind of a person who was larger than life and who was out there in prison," said Mokoena. "You couldn’t even visualize who he was because the pictures of Nelson Mandela were banned under apartheid."

When Mandela was released from prison in 1990, Alvin Andrews was working as a cameraman for ABC-TV.  He says he waited for hours alongside hundreds of other journalists for Mandela to walk out.

“I remember as Mandela got to the gate, I was picked up by somebody, it was my soundman," said Andrews. "He put me on his shoulder and ran forward and all of a sudden I found myself over Madiba [Mandela] himself and Mandela turned and he kind of looked up.  I think it made him realize that his life was going to change forever.”

And as Mandela's life changed, South Africa changed with it.  A fact brought home, perhaps, by the sight of tourists treading the ground where men once spent their lives behind bars.

You May Like

Video Obama to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President says US will take leadership role for a global response to deadly Ebola virus that is ravaging West Africa More

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Spacei
X
September 17, 2014 4:20 AM
The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid