“In my country we go to prison first and then become President. ” ― Nelson Mandela

The day started off in style with a delightful buffet breakfast at Ginja Restaurant overlooking the harbour.

We tucked into fruit, yoghurt, granola, a wide range of cured meats, smoked salmon, even endless oysters were an option. Then of course there were plenty of pastries to munch on. We were also allowed bottomless drinks (freshly squeezed juices, champagne, tea and coffee).

Feeling full and satisfied it was time to head over to our pre booked boat to Robbin Island. We boarded just before our alloted time at 11am and were soon on our way. The journey took around 45 minutes. We were able to sit upstairs with a shelter and wander around to the front of the boat.

Despite the day being very hot, the sea wind was extremely cooling. I would recommend bringing a hoody. We spotted a seal along the side of the boat. When he saw us he flipped over in a rush to get away from the loud engine.

Pulling up to the island it was bigger than I expected (the equivalent of 38 football fields). Groups of us were directed to buses, each of which had a guide. The bus then toured the island stopping off at certain points.

The first stop was the visitors center for the political prisoners. This was where families would be allowed to visit. They had to sit behind a glass screen and only speak in English or Afrikaans.

Not only were political prisoners kept on the island but also those suffering from leprosy or mental health (referred to as lunatics at the time).

We passed many dilapidated graves of those who died on Robbin island. The total of which was 1500.

The bus stopped at a disused lime quarry. The lime extracted was used to bind roads and buildings. Prisoners were forced to work day in day out. They had only hand-pick axes. Conditions were very rough. Many becoming partially blind from the sun glare on the rocks. The shifts lasted 8 hours and there were no toilet facilities other than a bucket available. What may have started off as a 6 month prison sentence often turned into 13 years of slogging at the mine.

The quarry was shut in 1978. In 1995 there was a reunion for the freed men on the island. Nelson Mandela reenacted what he and may others were made to do at the mine. He made a speech and afterwards laid down a stone. Many others followed him in placing stones next to the quarry forming a pile. This is pictured on the South African bank-note. It symbolises the triumph of the human spirit.

We also saw a few religious temples on the island. One mosque and a couple of churches. If a child was born on the island the church would raise a pink flag for a girl and a blue flag for a boy. However, if the child was a prisoners, the baby would be sent away and adopted by someone on the mainland. A total of 41 children were taken from their parents.

Today 120 people live of the island. Children take the ferry to the mainland to get to school.

After our bus tour of the island we heard from an ex prisoner named Thulani. He was arrested in 1984 for being involved in the African National Congress. Thulani remained in prison for five years. We heard about the hardship he and his fellow inmates endured. He spoke about the torture methods used. The most shocking being; the guards would dig a hole in the sand and bury the prisoners leaving their head above the surface. The guards would urinate on prisoners or simply leave them sweltering in the heat.

In addition, the guards would create a false sense of superiority among the prisoners. For example, different races would be treated differently. Asians would be given something that the blacks were not. For instance a tiny bit more food. Depending on the race of the prisoner they would have a different meal. None of the meals were nutritious but prisoners were separated in this way.

Letters written home were checked and scratched out so that the whole message was not seen.

Prisoners taught each other all they knew. Those that were illiterate were taught to read by those that were educated. Prisoners who were on meal duty would pass round messages from Nelson Mandela and other political leaders. Notes would be about politics and current affairs. In this way prisoners could keep up to date with what was happening outside. It also gave them much-needed hope.

We saw Nelson Mandela’s cell along with huge dorm rooms sleeping 40 people. The prison block was built by prisoners.

Once we toured the island it was time to get the ferry back to the mainland.

With heavy hearts we took a taxi to Cliffton Beach. Sitting in the shade behind some rocks I watched the vast ocean. The waves were ferocious. I thought back to Robbin Island, escaping would be simply impossible, the sea was bitterly cold and the waves humongous.

Groups of people started congregating with yoga mats. Two huge speakers were put up. I decided to walk over. I only had my scarf but that would do. I joined the big group of people and enjoyed an hour yoga class. Turns out it was an event that happens only once a year. I felt very lucky. Balancing in tree pose I focused on a point on the horizon. I listened to the calming waves and watched the sun set behind the clouds. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of freedom. I felt intense gratitude that I was able to be there in that moment, in South Africa practicing yoga.

It was the perfect end to our wonderful holiday.

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