Some of the people taking part in our tour didn’t want to visit this former prison, made in recent years into a visitor attraction. Like Alcatraz, for example, it’s a grim story of how people can be cruel to each other, and not someone’s idea of a pleasant day out!
My wife and I decided we wanted to go there, not only to make comparisons from our trip to San Francisco, but to know more about the effect apartheid had on those, including Mandela, who were unfortunate enough to be imprisoned there. The island is a half-hour boat trip across the bay from the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, a pleasant journey where we glimpsed whales and dolphins. The prison site was not as terrifying as Alcatraz, looking more of an open prison, but one surrounded by so much water that escape was presumably impossible. The conditions in the cells were poor, however, with prisoners treated more or less harshly according to their crimes and the caste to which they belonged.
Our guide was a former inmate, making his story all the more vivid, albeit that his English was very heavily accented and therefore at times difficult to follow. He did, however, ensure that Mandela’s overriding message of forgiveness was loud and clear. Overall we did manage to enjoy the experience, although it’s one that is not everyone’s cup of tea (Redbush in South Africa, of course!).