Breathtaking Beauty–And Cruelty

This past Saturday, we rode the ferry out to Robben Island, the place where Nelson Mandela and many other opponents of South Africa’s Apartheid government were unjustly imprisoned for decades. On the way, I took in the expansive ocean and spectacular mountains that surrounded me. I asked myself whether I had ever been to a place so beautiful before—I don’t think I have. On the ferry, I had a sense of lightness, a sense of personal independence. That’s when I realized we were on the way to visit a place that had stripped hundreds of African men of what it meant to be human for more than 30 years. A vast number of those imprisoned were there because they were a part of the African National Congress or other liberation movements. These men fought for their convictions at the expense of their own freedom. Looking into the cold, dark cell that Mandela, the first post-Apartheid president of South Africa, was confined for 18 years, it seemed absurd to me that a human could be treated this way for fighting for equality. When the prisoners were finally released in 1991, the American Red Cross let them pick out new clothes, enjoy a lunch at Kentucky Fried Chicken and go to the top of Table Mountain. On Sunday, our group rode a cable car to the top of that same mountain. I was sure that this was the most beautiful view I had ever seen. I then noticed Robben Island, a small piece of land surrounded by the sea. I got chills imagining the sense of liberation the prisoners must have felt looking down on such a breathtakingly beautiful place where they had been treated so cruelly, isolated and stripped of their basic civil liberties for so long.
–Colin Wallace