In the Footsteps of Nelson Mandela

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on Robben Island looking back at CapeTown and Table Mtn …

When Nelson Mandela was in prison on Robben Island, he slept on the floor- no bed, and used a bucket for a toilet. He was allowed one visitor a year for thirty minutes at a time and could write and receive only one letter every six months. He and his prison mates used to sit in the blinding bright quarry and smash rocks with a hammer. And he wrote his memoir, “Long Ride to Freedom,” on toilet paper in the courtyard.

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Seven kilometers off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa sits Robben Island, a maximum security prison, where Nelson Mandela’s was imprisoned for 18 of his 27 years as a political prisoner. When I visited South Africa only two years ago, we traveled out to the island, where a past political prisoner led you on your tour. Many of them knew and were imprisoned with Mandela and spoke personally of him.

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It was a very impacting visit and we loved the man more as we learned about him and his life. Seeing his cell, walking the courtyard where he sat and talked with his political prisoners, the same bright sun shining down that blinded some of the prisoners, seeing the tree that Mandela used to hide his messages under was very moving.

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We traveled to Johannesburg to visit his home- Building 8115 in Zone 10, Vilakazi Street, located in one of the poorest neighborhoods. Even while Mandala was in prison, his home was a symbol of apartheid. The police would drive by and shoot at the windows with his family living inside. They set it on fire. The Mandela’s always kept vicious dogs about.

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His home has been turned into an intimate museum with large black and white photographs on the walls. Nearby is a memorial to 13-year old Hector Pieterson, who was killed in a historic demonstration. (His sister works in the nearby museum.) The iconic photo of a friend carrying his bleeding body away with his sister crying at his side was chosen as the iconic picture against apartheid.

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In Mandela’s old Soweta neighborhood in Johannesburg, the only remaining Shebeen, “The Shack” remains. This one-time illicit township beer hall was where indigenous South Africans visited since they could not enter any pubs. During the apartheid era shebeens became a crucial meeting place for activists. It looks the exact same as when Mandela frequented it.

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We finished the day at a local neighborhood restaurant where we ate traditional food banquet style- the neighborhood still feeling a bit seedy and rough and very real. Mandela’s spirit was everywhere and it was huge.  The longer we were in South Africa, the more we feel in love with the man who saved them.

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“No one is born hating another person because of the color of skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate and if they can learn to hate they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

6 thoughts on “In the Footsteps of Nelson Mandela

  1. I appreciated your story, Cindy. It raised my respect for Nelson Mandela just a little bit higher, although I did not perceive that a higher esteem was even possible before I read it.

  2. Cindy great info. Our (traverse City’s) Rugby club played in a tournament is South Africa. In the lobby of the hotel where we stayed, there was a huge bowl of fruit that they put out every morning and for the most part went un-eaten. Our guys would sneak that bowl to the back reaches of the fenced in compound. On the other side of the hotel property was a shack city. Every morning we’d toss all that fruit over the fence to kids that were on to our game. It was an eye opener for sure. Those kids loved the TC Blues Rugby Football Club.

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    • what a wonderful story Tim- thanks so much for sharing- what a wonderful experience for all- not surprised you or your boys were involved in that – big hearted man that you are- and proud to call you my friend!

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