Robben Island (2012): Madiba's Footsteps

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What I did
Robben Island Cape Town
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of South Africa  , Western Cape,
Thursday, November 15, 2012

I had the privilege of sharing the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations' "Human Rights Award for Law Enforcement" with two great colleagues on October 5, 2011.  My friend, Jeremy, gave me a great gift to go along with the award.  My initial reaction was that it felt like a thick book, which could only mean it contained A LOT of WORDS.  After graduate school, I promised I would take a decade off from reading anything over two paragraphs.  But this was no ordinary book; it was Nelson Mandela's Long Walk To Freedom which I had on my must-read list.  I devoured nearly 60 pages that evening.  The soundtrack to the movie Invictus was softly playing in the background on my iTune.  I decided then that as soon as I finished reading the book I'd email an Old Friend in Finland and see if she could connect me to her friends in Cape Town.  Thereafter, I would search for a plane ticket.  I didn't know it then but this decision put me on an amazing collision course with the people whom I've met along the way from students to chefs, from artists to friends of friend.  I also met a Canadian globe trekker atop the Lion's Head whom I asked without success to kidnap me so I too could go on traveling.

Described on page 368 of the autobiography, Nelson Mandela addressed the Court for 4 hours and ended with these endearing words: "During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.  I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.  It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve.  But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."  3 weeks later Justice Quartus de Wet reconvened the court with a verdict.  "The sentence in the case of all the accused," he declared, "will be one of life imprisonment."  I felt compelled to follow Madiba's footsteps and visit the island.  

I've benefited from the lessons he has shared with those who work in the field of conflict resolution.  Although I could never experience his struggle of being in jail for 27 years -- 18 of which were spent on the island -- I needed to see what he and other political prisoners least the seemingly unaltered landscape and the places where they were detained and forced to work.  So on a beautifully clear, blue-sky morning, I boarded a ferry boat from the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront near the Old Clock Tower for a solemn visit to Robben Island.  I quietly wandered off on my own but having had training in historical preservation in my grad school days, I maintained a strict level of respect for all things historic.  At the maximum security prison, I approached a barred window and just like a student yearning to mimic his sage teacher, I did a Nelson-Mandela-1994 pose when the President returned to his jail cell for a visit; my hair lacks those silvery streaks, but I'm sure they will appear someday.  

On the dock at Robben Island

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