Three Days in Cape Town: Retracing Mandela’s steps

Maybe it was fitting that the weather was awful the day I saw the maximum-security prison where Nelson Mandela spent much of his jail time.

He was banished along with many enemies of the state to a  remote, wild place dubbed Robben Island by the Dutch because of its seal population. Prior to housing the anti-apartheid activists, it was a leper colony.

The island — Cape Town’s answer to Alcatraz — is about six miles offshore from Cape Town; and when you take the boat over, as they did, you really do feel cut off.

Not, not these. See below**.

The morning I visited was an  overcast and raw autumn day. Cape Town’s fabled Table Mountain was obliterated by fog — a dull blanket hanging over  the Atlantic Ocean. On one side of the road, some vegetation and a few scattered penguins.  On the other, the limestone quarries where the prisoners broke the rock and crushed it into gravel by hand in all kinds of weather, breathing in the dust day after day.

True, clouds will drain the color from everything. But even on a sunny day, how could it not look completely lifeless to those forced to share this barren place with a bunch of penguins?

Some former prisoners now live and work there, reliving the past. Happy to share this endurance lesson.

Prison entrance

Exercise yard

Exterior, Mandela’s cell


Ex-prisoner at Mandela exhibit

**Footnote on penguin pic: These are lovely South African penguins supplied by Raymond McGovern, my guest house host. I did see some penguins that day, but couldn’t capture them this well.

This entry was posted in Africa, Capetown, South Africa, How to travel around the world with just a carry-on. Bookmark the permalink.

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