Dot Walsh: South Africa Journal

Day One Leaving 9/28

Left Boston for Atlanta with the Courage of Conscience Award statue being cared for by airline stewards. At the Atlanta terminal I asked for Mandela’s new book “Conversations with Myself” At first the clerk said”no” and then ran after me to say if had just come in. Woman beside me from Ireland lived half year in S.Africa and loves it! From Atlanta to Johnnesburg the statue was watched over once again by airline staff. Conversations with the stewardess about capital punishment and the Troy Davis execution were interesting. She had visited Cape Town with her mother and found it the most beautiful place in the world. She borrowed the book to read the foreward by Obama and we talked a bit about our president and wondered what happened to him and the promises he made. We arrived in Johannesburg and were waiting for the plane to Cape Town when a young man we were talking with told us to call Mandela “ta ta Madiba.” This is what we call him. Then he touched the statue and gave it a blessing

Day Two 9/29 Arrival in Cape Town

Day Three 9/30 Meeting at the office of Healing of Memories in Claremont

Father Lapsley founder of the organization was out of the country so we met with Alphonse, a staff member. The organization was created after apartheid ended and the country moved towards healing and reconciliation. The funding comes from overseas although in 2010 the government funded 10% of the budget. Aids is still increasing and poses a huge problem. Also an influx of refugees from war torn countries ex. Congo, Rwanda, Somalia. There are no refugee camps so people live with friends and family and go to the townships. Another problem is crime, with 50 million adults and youth incarcerated. Father Lapsley created the model for the three-day workshop. Usually 20 people with five facilitators focusing on each person’s story with emphasis on feelings and the power of forgiveness. Participants are offered follow-up workshops and an ongoing support network.

Afterwards we visited the Mandela Rhodes Foundation to speak with Julia Brown who I had communicated with from the States. Quite an impressive building although Julia and the director Shaun Johnson were not in. It looks like Mandela will not be in Cape Town as he has not been feeling well and has even decided not to attend Tutu’s 80th birthday celebration. Whatever happens this will be an amazing opportunity to be in this country and to learn. The big news is that the Dalai Lama was refused a visa to enter the country for Tutu’s party.

Table Mountain

The late afternoon was spent at Table Mountain, the huge mountain range that hovers over Cape Town. It was designated as a National Park by Nelson Mandela in 1996 and is kept in perfect condition. We walked along observing the different views from the pathways and stayed until the sun went down catching the last cable car to the bottom. We were told that when the clouds come in and cover the mountain it looks like a table cloth.


Day Four 10/1 Robben Island

The ferry left from the waterfront with the sun shining and our spirits high. Although it was suggested that we bring the statue with us I decided a picture and the new Mandela book would be enough to carry. We went from the ferry to a bus with a guide who gave us the history of the prison.

The Dutch came here in 1650 and brought the first political prisoners from the colonies. After the Dutch left the British in 1840 turned the island into a leper colony and built a church and a hospital A cemetery still remains from this period. It closed in 1932 and during WWII the island became an army base.

Then in 1960 with apartheid the first political prisoners were brought here. They came barefoot, many without underwear and other clothing. They had to build the prison from the blue slate excavated from the quarries and the living conditions were brutal–prisoners suffered physical, mental and emotional torture. Not a single prisoner escaped alive as the land was too far away to swim to. The Dutch found a large population of indigenous seals on the island and named Robben Island after the seals.

After being tried for sabotage and given a life sentence Nelson Mandela was brought here In 1983 and spent 18 years of his sentence in isolation. Prisoners were allowed two visits per year behind a glass window and two letters that were read by officials before giving them out. The prisoners had to dig holes for toilets and spent days in the lime quarries leaving them with lung disease and damaged eyes. There was a small yard where the men would play tennis, soccer and chess. The remainder of Mandela’s incarceration was spent in other prisons until his release in 1990 and In 1994 he was elected the first democratic president of South Africa.

We were taken to Mandela’s cell and after the other visitors moved on I asked the guide if he would open the cell so that I could take a picture with the book and photo of the statue.