‘This is not the democracy we fought for’ – former Robben Island prisoner

Cape Town – South Africa's democracy is not the democracy Robben Island prisoners fought for, a former island prisoner said on Thursday.

“We never talked about this democracy, we talked about a different one, this is not the democracy we fought for,” Pandelani Nefolovhodwe, 70, said.

“We don’t recognise this democracy.”

Nefolovhodwe spent six years on Robben Island from 1976 to 1982. He was arrested with nine others on charges of treason by the apartheid government for organising a rally in Durban. The rally celebrated Mozambique's liberation following the collapse of Portuguese colonial rule.

Nefolovhodwe, a Robben Island Museum council member, was addressing Western Cape University students at a seminar on the topic of taking the island into the future.

The museum is celebrating its twentieth year in existence.

Nefolovhodwe said Robben Island is reshaping itself to be a space for dialogue on the African continent.

“We [former prisoners] decided the museum should not commemorate the heartache of the past, but celebrate the persistence of the human spirit,” he said.

“We believe the museum should be a vehicle for sustained freedom across the continent.”

The museum received four consecutive years of clean audits from the auditor general.

Nefolovhodwe said the museum’s council set out to change the administration into something they could be proud of, following years of maladministration.

Chief operating officer Pascall Taruvinga said the museum is planning to introduce digital exhibitions and a country-wide tour to bring the museum “to the people”.

“You would also notice that the island is green, we are moving away from using diesel to solar. We recently constructed one-hectare photovoltaic solar panels on the island,” he said.

“Diesel destroys the environment and we want to move away from it.”

Taruvinga said he wants the island to be shaped into a platform that can fix Africa.

“The more I think about South Africa and Africa, I am reminded of the story of the prodigal son who demanded a portion of inheritance and his father gave him his inheritance,” he said.

“Like the prodigal son we demanded independence, we fought for independence and we got it, but we didn't get the tools to maintain growth. Some stayed, like the prodigal son’s brother, and maintained the tools.

“Why were we more interested in the power [following independence] than securing the means for growth.”

Taruvinga questioned whether Robben Island would be the prodigal son "who squandered everything" he owns, or the son who stayed with the father "to fix things".

“We need to ask ourselves, how can Robben Island become the platform for dialogue to fix things?” he said.

 

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