National News

Prison couldn't hold Mandela's spirit

Posted December 13, 2013

— Robben Island, the notorious prison where former South Africa president spent much of his 27 years in prison for his political activities, is now a museum that reminds people of the country's past oppression and inspires them to a better future.

The 8-square-mile island, more than 4 miles off the coast of Cape Town in the South Atlantic Ocean, served as a prison since the 17th century, when Dutch colonists established it until 1996, when the South Africa government moved the last inmates out. Cemeteries filled with the graves of lepers and the mentally ill – inmates were forced to dig the graves – dot the island.

Small memorials to Mandela, who died last week, have sprung up inside his cell, where a pallet served as his bed and a bucket as his toilet, and outside the small cell window.

Outside the prison, visitors can see the lime quarry where Mandela worked. A lack of protection from the lime dust led to his chronic respiratory problems in later years. They can also see the garden where he frequently hid smuggled manuscripts he was reading between the vegetables.

After his release from prison in 1990, Mandela displayed collections of the paintings of his homeland that he completed behind bars as a way to maintain his spirit during his quest for freedom.

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