Obama to visit Mandela's cell

2013-06-29 21:12
(Picture: AP)

(Picture: AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Cape Town - US President Barack Obama on Sunday will visit Nelson Mandela's Robben Island prison cell, paying homage to the ailing South African hero.

The journey to Robben Island, while not Obama's first, will carry extra poignancy with Mandela still critically ill in hospital.

The 94-year-old spent two thirds of his 27 years as a political prisoner on the rocky outcrop off Cape Town.

Subjected to degrading treatment in "the harshest, most iron-fisted outpost in the South African penal system", Mandela was allowed one visitor for 30 minutes, and one letter, every six months.

He did not so much as touch the hand of his then wife Winnie, having instead to settle for rubbing his nose against a photograph.

But he had vowed not to be robbed of his dignity.

"There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair," Mandela wrote in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom.

"That way lay defeat and death."

Now a magnet for tourists and a UN World Heritage site, the prison has been starkly preserved as a monument to the hardships endured by those who fought for multi-race democracy.

Tourists arrive by the same method used by prisoners, on ferries that ply across the often moody Atlantic Ocean, a journey that Mandela first made in chains.

Security fences are still topped with angry razor wire.

The bleak quarry where inmates once laboured remains, and the view of scenic Cape Town across the bay painfully close.

But it is the bare-boned former cell of former prisoner 466/64 - who went on to lead South Africa into multi-race democracy nearly 20 years ago - that strikes most visitors.

His bed on the floor, a small wooden bench, and a metal toilet bucket have been recreated in the damp space that Mandela could pace across in three steps.

"I was 46 years old, a political prisoner with a life sentence, and that small cramped space was to be my home for I knew not how long," he wrote.

A small window

A window shuttered by thick bars in his cell offered a view into a courtyard where prisoners once broke rocks and where a draft of his autobiography was buried for safekeeping.

Obama visited the cell while a senator in 2006, solemnly gazing out of the same bars that his hero once did.

"Think about 27 years in prison. Think about hardships and the struggles and being away from family and friends," Obama said at the Soweto campus of the University of Johannesburg.

Mandela was sent to the island chained to other prisoners in the hold of an old wooden ferry with a porthole above through which the warders urinated.

Mandela went on to two more prisons before walking free, fist clenched, in 1990 and embracing his former enemies in a globally admired lesson of reconciliation.

He later described the island as a "celebration of the struggle and a symbol of the finest qualities of the human spirit, rather than as a monument to the brutal tyranny and oppression of apartheid".

Read more on:    nelson mandela  |  barack obama  |  cape town  |  obama in africa

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Competition regulation for a growing and inclusive economy

ADVERTORIAL: The Competition Commission of South Africa is conducting advocacy work in the South African automotive aftermarket industry and has gazetted a Draft Code of Conduct for public comment.


6 myths about male cancer

It is important to be aware of the most prevalent cancer diseases amongst men in our country.


You won't want to miss...

Who are the highest paid models of 2017?
10 gorgeous plus-sized models who aren't Ashley Graham
5 top leg exercises for men
10 best dressed men of 2017
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.