Robben Island

Well, today we started our fifth week of school—crazy how fast it has already gone!  We have two weeks of class left until our spring break… yep, spring break!  I’m definitely keeping quite busy with school as it seems to be paper time for all of my classes… and of course they all fall within about the same week… oh well!  It is hard knowing what exactly lecturers want and look for in assignments but I’m slowly learning.  My biology practical has probably been the most different in comparison to home—they have VERY accurate with everything and the drawings that some of the students produce could literally be published.  Well, I’m just about the worst artist you will ever meet—so drawing for my prac book has been quite a stretch.  Not to mention they are very strict in what they look for—everything has to be drawn with straight edges, drawings in pencil, labels in pen, figure titles, annotated labels with the annotation in parenthesis following the label, scales, magnification, etc… the practicals are a bit more intense than the ones back home and its certainly taken some getting used to!  Another big difference in classes is that the lecturers (professors) switch during the semester—so you’ll have one lecturer for a few weeks, then another, and another all throughout the semester as the lecturers just teach their expertise.  I’ve also had my share of time in the library which is surprisingly extremely nice… and big!  The library is seven stories with books and students everywhere!  Another difference is that most students don’t use laptops but rather use computers provided by the school so trying to find an outlet can be a bit of an impossible task during peak hours.  But, all-in-all school is continuing to go well… and very fast!

This past weekend, we had an IES fieldtrip to Robben Island.  The rainy, winter weather finally decided to show up here in Cape Town as both Friday and Sunday were pretty gloomy but we got lucky as Saturday was just about perfect weather for our trip to Robben Island!  Robben Island, now 12 km off-shore, was actually a part of the mainland.  Found in 1498, the island was home to the mentally ill and those with leprosy until the prison was established on the island in 1962.  The prison was built by the prisoners themselves and was finished in 1966.  Prisoners were kept on the island from 1962-1991 and the island was home to up to 1,500 prisoners at a time, however these prisoners were never white men or women.  95% of the prisoners were black, native men while the remaining were Indian.  The prison authority was all white men and prisoners were kept on the island for a minimum of five years and a maximum of life (however the longest one actually stayed on the island was 26 years).  Every prisoner arrived by boat and no one ever escaped from the island.  Upon arrival, there was no orientation but rather other inmates gave the newbies a rundown or they would learn quickly from breaking them.  Our tour guide was actually a prisoner on the island for just over six years from 1984-1991.  He was punished for being a black’s rights activist and was sentenced for 25 years that would have ended in November 2009… wow.  He was prisoner number 38-84, meaning that he was the 38th prisoner to arrive in 1984.  He moved to the island (of which 100 people live) and began working, giving tours in 2003.  I couldn’t even imagine how emotional that must have been for him and I’m sure is still today.  We visited three different parts of the prison, all of which has been conserved since the prison was shut down in 1991.  Fortunately with the new ANC government, the prisoners were all released from 1990-1991… most of the prisoners were activists and made the ultimate sacrifice of freedom in the struggle for democracy.

The prisoners were housed in either private or communal cells.  The private cell was six feet by four feet and most of the time, the inhabitants slept on the floor.  We saw Nelson Mandela’s cell… Mandela stayed on the island for eight years before being released.  He was imprisoned for twenty-seven years in three different jails.  The communal cells housed 60 men, all of which slept in bunk beds crammed into a room.  There was a doctor who visited the onsite hospital once per week.  If prisoners were good, they were chosen as cooks for the kitchen but otherwise prisoners had hard, manual work that they were required to do.  they had breakfast then worked eight straight house, most of which was outside in the heat in the lime quarry.  Initially, the lime was used to build roads around the island but this only took six months to complete.  They continued to use carving as physical work for the prisoners for no real reason but did so for 13 ½ years.  After their long day of work, prisoners had dinner at 3:30 before being locked into their cells for the rest of the night at 4. They had dogs on the island and I was shocked to learn that the dog kennels were actually larger than that of the private cells… wow.  The tour was certainly interesting and it blows my mind that this was so recent—as in I was alive for the end of it… wow.  And hearing all of the stories from someone who was a prisoner himself made it that much more impactful.

Yesterday we also had a major TIA (this is Africa) moment… here in South Africa, they prepay for electricity.  Well, we ran out and lost power for a few hours until Lu, our RA, was able to go buy some more.  And where did he go to buy more electricity… yep, the grocery store down the street… TIA!

~SusanNelson Mandela’s 4 ft by 6 ft prison cell

Buildings in the Prison

View of Table Mountain from Robben Island

Seriously… so incredibly gorgeous!



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