Nothing makes you forget about all your problems and worries like visiting District Six, Robben Island, and learning all about the political prisoners who fought against apartheid. During the apartheid era, District Six was proclaimed a whites-only area, so all the non-white residents were uprooted from there and displaced, many of them left homeless. To walk around the buildings and the area where only blacks were allowed to enter just a few years ago, brought back the same feelings I had while I was on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage visiting the Little Rock Central National Historic Site.
Once the tour of District Six concluded, we made our way to Robben Island.
Robben Island by itself, separate of its history, is beautiful. In fact, all of us got off the tour bus and had to take pictures by the island. Of course, the history highlights a different kind of reality.
This tour was perhaps the most enlightening experience of my entire trip. To walk into the cell where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in prison was an experience like no other. Hard to believe that such a courageous and successful leader of the country was tortured and locked up in a tiny cell. His cell contained minimal belongings, a thin blanket laid on the floor, a pillow made out of a bundle of linens, a small tiny desk stand, and a bucket. Other than that it was a cold and barren cell that imprisoned one who would eventually become one of the world’s most powerful political leaders.
After listening to horrific stories about the ways in which the prisoners were mistreated, I had a better understanding of why South Africans idealize Mandela. Without him, the nation would still be under the same apartheid system – segregation in public schools, housing, public facilities and health care, among other areas. However, Mandela and his political leadership team worked diligently to overturn the Nationalists’ racist policies. Although South Africa still has a long way to go from achieving equality, Mandela’s leadership has brought significant improvements.