Prisoner 466/64

Took the ferry to Robben Island today. Incidentally ‘robben’ is Dutch for seal! Throughout its history the island has been used to hide away or imprison social outcasts of one type or another. These include the mentally ill, lepers and most famously, from the early 1960s, black political activists.  Oliver Tambo described it has the ‘most inhospitable outpost of apartheid.’  Nelson Mandela, typically looking on the bright side, referred to it as ‘the university’ because of all that he learned during the seventeen years he spent there.

We visited the pitifully small cell in which Nelson Mandela, prisoner 466/64, was incarcerated and the limestone quarry where he and his fellow prisoners laboured day after day. The reflected light in the quarry was so intense that it damaged Mandela’s eyesight to the extent that even following surgery he cannot be photographed by a flash camera.

The tour of the prison was excellent. Our guide, a former inmate, had been imprisoned there for seven years, from 1976, following his active involvement in political demonstrations whilst a high school student. His version of life on Robben Island had us all enthralled.

On a lighter note, this afternoon Nicci and I took a taxi out to the Kirstenbosch Gardens which are on the far side of Table Mountain, nestling on its lower slopes, overlooking the suburb of Newlands. They are the only botanical gardens which has ever been granted World Heritage status.

In 1996 Nelson Mandela visited the gardens and planted a pepper bark tree. This was a symbolic gesture, given that the pepper bark tree is famous for its medicinal properties and has brought healing to the people of South Africa in the same way that Mandela brought healing to the Rainbow Nation. Furthermore, after 20 years of cross breeding, Kirstenbosch developed a Strelitzia plant with an unusually golden-yellow colour. It was named ‘Mandela’s Gold’ in Nelson’s honour. 

Enroute  to Kirstenbosch we took  in  a quick visit to the Newlands Stadium museum and rugby store and its neighbour the Newlands cricket ground, two of the most stunning settings in world sport . The Springboks are currently on their way to Cardiff  for a showdown at the Millennium Stadium this coming weekend. 

Still on the rugby theme, there were  free samples wine samples on offer at the hotel yesterday. One of the wines was a product of the Burger family vineyard.  Schalk Burger, the  South African flanker, was of course involved in an unpleasant eye gouging incident during  last year’s series against the  British Lions. Not surprisingly the Burger wine left a rather bitter taste!     

Last night Nicci and I tried a typical South African breddie, a thick and tasty tomato stew  made with succulent lamb. It was very good. In fact the thought of it is making me feel hungry so I’d better sign off now and get myself ready for dinner!     

Tomorrow it our intention to take the famous Simon’s Town train through the suburbs and down the Cape Peninsula towards Boulders Bay, for as bit of penguin spotting. Time permitting, we then hope to press on down to the Cape of Good Hope.

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