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Monday, October 15, 2012

Robben Island is depressing

By: Lindokuhle Mnisi

The entrance at the Robben Island. Picture: Robben Island pictures
A group of Journalism Students from the Tshwane University of Technology visited the Robben Island to witness the land where South Africa’s freedom fighters were arrested during the apartheid era.

Students were taught about the history of this country and were given clarity about what transpired at Robben Island in the past. Divided into two groups for two buses, students took a tour around the Island with Tour Guides who were explaining everything while the buses were moving. Buses would stop near the spots (buildings, playgrounds, graveyards, etc) and the tour guide would explain briefly about the history behind that spot.

“All these things that you see around here were erected and utilised during the apartheid period. Some or most of these were built by the men who were arrested and given hard labour here in this Island,” said Anderson Friedman, one of the tour guides. As the bus was moving, he pointed at the cemetery where people were buried, churches and mosque where they worshipped, the Robert Sobukwe house and ended near the cells where the prisoners were detained. 

Friedman told the story the late PAC leaders, Robert Sobukwe. As a result of the “Sobukwe clause” that was aimed at arresting only him, Sobukwe was detained in an isolated house where he was not allowed to communicate with anybody. “He was kept here (house) for six year. Due to the isolation and lack of conversation, he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He also picked up a mental state because he was no longer able to put words together anymore by forming sentences. At the age of 54year he passed away as a result of cancer,” Friedman explained.

Friedman then handed over to one of the veterans who were arrested back in the 1970s.
A man who identified himself as Lulamile Zozo Madolo led the tour to the very important parts of Robben Island, including inside the cell of the world icon Dr Nelson Rholihlahla Mandela. Madolo (58) said he was arrested in 1976 for taking part in the Soweto Uprising and he was brought to Robben Island in 1977 January 21. “I was a student from Port Elizabeth. They arrested me for taking part in Soweto Uprising. In that year all the black South African students refused to be taught in Afrikaans as a medium of instructions,” said Madolo explaining how he ended in Robben Island.

He said they tried to engage with the Apartheid regime in a form of demonstrations and petition and “...we thought that they would listen to us but police responded by shooting at us”. “Some of us died, others fled to other countries while the unfortunate ones like me were arrested and brought here,” he added. Prisoners were divided into four categories (A, B, C & D) which provided different privileges. Those arrested early in the 1960s were only allowed to write one letter and have one visitor after six months. Those with better privileges would write four letters a month.

Madolo showed those on the tour a picture of Mandela standing with his friend Walter Sisulu, wearing smart outfit. He shared the story behind that picture saying it was taken in 1966 when there were rumours around the world that Mandela was dead. “This picture was taken by a journalist from England. The apartheid regime knew in advance about the foreign media’s visit so they bought new clothes for prisoners so that they would look smart in front of the visitors. After the visit, they were given back their torn clothes and forced to go back to work,” Madolo explained. 

While still in prison, Nelson Mandela illegally wrote a book called “Long Walk to Freedom” and the pieces of pages he used to write on were transported to the people by his friend, Mac Maharaj (now President Jacob Zuma’s spokesperson). The book was published in London.

Jacob Zuma, Ahmad Kathrada, Walter Sisulu, Govern Mbeki, Mosiuoa Lekota to name but a few were among those who spent years in prison. Before students and other tourists left Robben Island they had more knowledge regarding what transpired there. Robben Island is now used as a historical site and museum.

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