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

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More