On Tuesday, we had our first full day in Cape Town. It’s hard not to be reminded of San Francisco by Cape Town’s windy, rainy weather, crowded urban streets, and the old prison just a ferry ride away.
We took our ferry – The Sea Princess – to Robben’s Island. The island is home to the prison that Nelson Mandela was placed in. Bad weather and rough seas caused the boat ride to be chilly and pretty nauseating, but helped us all realize how tough being in that prison would be.
When we arrived we took a quick bus tour of the island, and then started the main tour of the maximum security prison. Our guide was actually held there for six and a half years because he advocated for the end of apartheid. He told us about the cold winters with no towels and no hot water, and about the fact that prisoners were made to wear short sleeve shirts and shorts all year round. But when I asked him what stood out to him the most when he thought back on his time there, his answer was the friendship. And I thought that was a beautiful thing. He said that without that bond of fighting for something bigger than all of them it would have been impossible to survive.
I can’t imagine working in a prison that you once were held in, but this case was different. They weren’t in prison for murder or rape, but for the sake of freedom. They all were proud of why they were there.
He also talked about the concept of victory. He said that most people feel like victory should mean that the winner takes all, but that every situation – some more so than others, and especially in the case of the overthrow of apartheid – a victory is a compromise. No one can get exactly what they want and that’s okay.
He wasn’t bitter about anything that happened, but grateful and optimistic. He said today was better than yesterday, but tomorrow is not entrusted to us. We need to work hard to make the future better for the future generations. I could have talked to him for hours – he was an unforgettable guide and it was overall an incredible experience.