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Robben Island

Geschrieben am 02.04.2016

Today we visited Robben Island, an island 12 km away from Cape Town. The name originated from the Dutch who were the first to discover the island. After a wild passage, we arrived on the former prison island that is a museum today. Here we met Peter who had been a political prisoner for 13 years. Meanwhile, he guides visitor groups over the island. He told us stories about life in prison. On the day of arrival, prisoners received a card on which name, date of birth and fingerprints were registered. Three months solitary confinement and only one meal per day was the punishment if the card was lost. In the censor’s office, inbound and outbound letters were intercepted and read. It was forbidden to mention names of fellow inmates, threatened by punishment. Often, letters were changed, e.g. a prisoner’s wife was told that her husband had met another woman and intended to marry her. Until the UN controlled the living conditions, the prisoners only had short trousers, short shirts and sandals – in summer as well as in winter. In addition, prisoners only slept on thin mats on the floor. Usually, everything was wet and many suffered from diseases like TB and pneumonia. Then, we also saw the wing where the most popular prisoner spent 18 years of his life. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in a cell that can be crossed with three steps. The later president of South Africa spent the last years of his imprisonment in Drakenstein prison and finally under house arrest in his home. In total, Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in captivity. This number as well as the story about another political prisoner who spent six years in solitary confinement, suffered from lung cancer and finally died from this disease, gave us goose bumps. Peter obviously has made his peace with his captivity. He had not been angry after his release from prison but rather feared the future. Working in the prison museum helped him to overcome his fears to be imprisoned again. At the end of the tour, we left the area through a gate framed by barbed wire. Peter, Nelson Mandela and their fellow inmates had dreamed about this moment, which meant freedom, for many years.

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