Retiring 'Islander' talks of eerie silence

2013-05-12 16:18
Robben Island (Picture: AFP)

Robben Island (Picture: AFP)

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Johannesburg - The longest serving "Islander" at Robben Island, former prison guard Jan Moolman, has retired after half a century of service, the Sunday Times reported.

"Robben Island was my whole entire life," Moolman told the newspaper.

He started as a trainee in the prison service in 1963 when he was eighteen.

Moolman guarded over Nelson Mandela and other Rivonia trialists; as well as Pan Africanist Congress founder Robert Sobukwe.

He said Sobukwe - who was kept in isolation in a fenced-off home - was a "very decent man".

"He never tried to get me to do anything for him."

Moolman said he had started talking to Sobukwe during his shifts - a dismissable offence.

"[Sobukwe] knew that and so he would meet me on the seaward side where nobody could see us. He asked me about my family and he would always slip me something beneath the fence - a pear or an apple."

Moolman said that he was most "haunted" by his experiences as a ferry skipper on the island during apartheid.

"Non-white people would be crammed into a tiny space in the bow of the ferry, where everybody got seasick."

Moolman and his wife stayed on at the island after it closed in 1996 and became a museum.

"It was the strangest time. The island was completely silent. No prisoners, no other people".

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