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07/26/2011

Wolmunster House's Robben Island Experience

On the morning of 23rd I, along with all 19 members of Wolmunster house, headed down to the waterfront to take the ferry to Robben Island, the infamous Alcatraz-like prison where Nelson Mandela was held for an unfathomable 18 years during Apartheid. 


We survived the nauseating ferry ride and made it to the island where we were greeted by a former inmate of the prison – our tour guide. He told us his story of being sent to Robben Island for involvement in the anti-Apartheid movement. He led us to the kitchen, the very kitchen where he spent five of his seven years cooking for fellow inmates. He showed us a chart depicting the rations that were allotted to prisoners of different races, the white inmates receiving more food than the Coloured people, who received more food than the Black prisoners. 


I was surely not the only student to wonder why a man who suffered such trauma and hardship on this island would voluntarily spend his days giving tours of the prison. Unfortunately no one asked him this question - my biggest regret of the day, despite the personal nature of the question. 


The lesson: always ask the difficult, uncomfortable question. You’ll regret not asking it more than you’ll regret asking it. 


After seeing the prison, we were taken on a scenic bus tour of the rest of the island where we caught a beautiful glimpse of the city across the water, saw a peacock, and spotted some more of our favourite African penguins waddling along the shore.

The ferry back was just as brutal as the ferry there, a result of the immensely powerful winds that literally almost knocked us over. Overall, the tour provided us with some first-hand insight into South African history, enriching our experience as we immerse ourselves in this culture that is so deeply shaped by its recent history. 

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Josh Kriegel is a student from the University of Pennsylvania.

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