News / Africa

Mandela Legend Grew At Robben Island

Mandela Legacy Grew at Robben Islandi
X
June 24, 2013
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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Abuja Blast Impacts Lives, Livelihoods

Officials say they are looking at ways to help bombing victims and boosting security More

Cambodia Technology Adviser Criticizes Cybercrime Draft Law

Phu Leewood says current criminal code can be used to prosecute offenders and that there is no need for a separate law More

Photogallery A Year Later, Boston Remembers Deadly Marathon Bombings

City pauses to honor victims and salute emergency workers who came to their assistance in frantic moments after blasts 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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid