©Wolfgang Kaehler

Africa Wine and Wildlife

Robben Island

By Michelle Alten

Nelson Mandela's cell

Nelson Mandela’s cell

All photos © Wolfgang Kaehler, phototours.us

Day 5-Having internet again, we will post more Africa Wine and Wildlife entries.  Today is a free day to explore Cape Town.  Some in our group are heading off to the aquarium, others to museums or to a special part of town known for its ethnic diversity and colorful homes.  Wolf and I decide to visit Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was a political prisoner from 1964 until 1982, when he was taken to another prison near Cape Town.    I still recall the day in February of 1990 when I heard on the news that Nelson Mandela was released from prison.  It seemed like a good omen.  We weren’t naïve enough to think that this event would usher in a new era of peace and humanitarian good will, yet it was clearly a sign of hope and a moment of jubilation.

A former political prisoner is guiding us in the prison

A former political prisoner is guiding us in the prison

Wolf and I take the boat to the island, bobbing in the waves as though on a roller coaster.  Upon our arrival, the black men who make up the crew are laughing, smiling and enjoying each other’s company, but the first thing I see as we step off the boat are a series of giant photos of groups of prisoners with ghostly vacant stares.  One of our guides, a man dressed in pressed trousers, a fine sweater and a black beret, was a political prisoner here from the age of 19.  He tells about how he had been a student protesting the educational system and how his seven years here felt like an eternity.  He shows us the austere cell he shared with a large group and Mandela’s single cell with only a bucket and a thin mat on the floor.   The guides both recount the history and stories of apartheid.  While I don’t know enough about present-day South Africa to say how much black people’s lives have changed, the vast expanses of shacks making up townships seem to imply that, as in our own country, the journey to improve the lives of black people still has a long road ahead.

For upcoming tours please go to www.phototours.us

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