An inspiration and a pillar of hope
Monday, 21 July 2008
It was just after 5AM in the morning as we slowly slid out of Cape Town harbour aboard Eve, a beautiful power yacht. The full moon hanging over the glass like ocean, hardly a swell as we majestically cut a line through the gun mettle sea, slowly the massive turbo diesel motors turned from a low growl into a high pitch purr as the boat lifted out of the water and lurched forward into the direction of Robben Island.
It wasn’t long and I could feel the boat being throttled back and did a wide turn into the approach to the island harbour. A strange sensation came over me, a feeling of tension and then the stark realisation of how the prisoners must have felt as the ferry made its last turn into the island harbour, their last few hundred meters of freedom until eternal incarceration.
I climbed off the boat and stood on the land, thoughts and sounds of shouting raced trough my mind, thinking of what must have gone through the prisoners minds as they stood in absolute terror, knowing all that lay ahead now, was the final short walk to the prison- It was dark, all you could see was the outline of buildings and the harbour walls and a nauseating acidic uric stench from the guano of hundreds of birds, nesting on the harbour wall.
cell.jpgThe magnitude of this symbolic event began to hit me, the privilege of being given the opportunity to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela by running a joint 90 km around the island on his 90th birthday – I will never forget this day.
Arriving at the prison we were led to the famous cell where Madiba had spent so much of his life. Our whole group was silent, walking down the grey painted corridor, sparsely lit and out into the courtyard, we then turned right and then into another passage with a row of cells backing onto the courtyard. There was hardly a sound, everyone encapsulated in their own thoughts.
Ahead I heard a clang of a steel door and the group stopped. I do not know how to put words to my feelings over the next minute as I stepped forward and entered Madiba’s cell. I just stared at this small 7 foot by 7 foot concrete box with massive steel bars; two blankets on the floor a small wooden table and a tin bucket with a lid. I am not going to try and explain the feeling of guilt and sorrow that overcame me even though I was no part of it. To think after all the years that Madiba spent in that cell and what he had to endure. When finally, he was granted his freedom, he walked out with no feelings of hatred or revenge, but only of forgiveness and hope for a better future.
Our run began at the cell and we headed back down the passage, now in total darkness and out of the prison door, into the cold crisp morning air towards the shoreline and the road around the island. I could hear my feet crunching along the road, as it was deadly silent, hardly a breath of wind, the only sounds were of rabbits scurrying in the grass and the odd penguin waddling out of the way. This was punctuated with the odd plop, of waves lazily hitting the rocks as we ran on into the darkness, the full moon seemed to throw a beam of light ahead of us showing us the way .
As the beads of sweat began to build on my brow and slowly trickle down my face, I thought of all the tears of pain, grief, despair, hardship and finally joy that were shed by so many over the decades for this country. My only wish is that these tears are now the life giving water to all the seeds of hope that have been planted by so many who have suffered through the years of pain. We owe this future to our children.
After our run on Robben Island I heard this beautiful tribute to Madiba from 2 children, one black and one white with their arms lovingly around each other.
“Madiba, if it was not for what you did for this country we would not be allowed to have each other as friends today.” Thank you.