‘Why Do Some People Live This Way, And We Live Another?’

On Sept. 21, 1984, Dede Kgotso Ntsoelengoe was brought to Robben Island, a place off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, where convicted political activists were imprisoned during the Apartheid regime. Over the weekend, I listened to him talk about his experiences as I sat in the cell where he spent nearly seven years of his life along with nearly 60 other men. At the age of 19, Ntsoelengoe was the 38th prisoner to arrive at Robben Island in 1984. To the guards he was known as Prisoner 38/84. But to his fellow inmates he was known as an intellectual. Ntsoelengoe told us that he would work all day at hard labor and discuss politics at night with his bunk mates. His passion for politics stemmed from the large disparity between the “haves” and the “have nots” in South Africa, which he encountered when he visited his mother, a maid, while she was at work for a white family. He remembered that his mother’s bosses had all the comforts that he–and his people–did not, such as flushing toilets. “Growing up in Soweto you don’t realize that this is the only world you know … until you leave Soweto,” he said. “When I left, my eyes were opened. But there was this nagging question: Why do some people live this way, and we live another?” Even after being imprisoned for his beliefs, Ntsoelengoe said his passion for politics hasn’t dwindled. “I am still an activist. That has never stopped,” he said. It amazes me that even after experiencing so much discrimination and hatred for their political beliefs that there are people like Ntsoelengoe who face that opposition head on. I am unsure if I could ever be that strong if I were in a similar situation. The passion and energy he has put into changing the political landscape of South Africa, compared to what I have experienced in the United States, makes me realize how much we take for granted.
–Maggie Dick