Nieuws - 18 november 2010

Robben Island

Less than a month ago I had the honour of visiting Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and countless other non-white opponents of Apartheid were imprisoned for years. It was not the sight of the tiny cells, the bleak courtyard or the high fences topped with rolls of barbed wire that made the biggest impression on me, but the stories of our guides, who were ex-prisoners.

A bus took us past all the places on the island that are part of its history. We saw the churchyard where prisoners were buried. We passed the limestone quarry where huge pieces of rock were hewn out, to be hacked into gravel later in the courtyard, the prisoners sitting in long rows. Pointless work, intended simply to make them feel the inequality, to break their wills. We saw groups of penguins, here at their most northern point, made possible by the cold water of the gulf stream from the south. I listened to our guide and looked at him as he told us about Mr Mandela, who taught them not to hate, not to seek revenge.
I didn't buy anything in the souvenir shop at the jetty, but I did pick up a couple of chips of limestone from the quarry to give to my daughters back home.
What does all this have to do with Wageningen? Not much, perhaps. Nothing, perhaps. I'm not sure. A lot perhaps. Everything, perhaps. It was an honour to visit Robben Island. Yes, an honour. But the prisoners who were robbed of their freedom here and endlessly mistreated and humiliated won't have felt that way.