Original Oil Paintings of Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela at Robben Island
After years of underground activity and hiding from the South African police, Nelson Mandela was arrested and transferred to Robben Island just off the Western Cape coast of South Africa. On arriving at Robben Island Nelson Mandela recalls that the island looked green & beautiful; from the outside it looked more like a resort than a prison, an illusion that was soon to be shattered. The racial divide on Robben Island was absolute; there was no black warders and no white prisoners.
The first week Nelson Mandela arrived at Robben Island he started work with the other prisoners which would keep them occupied for the next few months. Every morning stones were dumped by the entrance of the courtyard and they had to use wheelbarrows to move the stones to the centre of the courtyard where they had to crush the stones into gravel. This type of work was physically demanding and extremely tedious.
Nelson Mandela soon settled into a pattern and realised that prison life was all about routine. One of the first things he did was to start a calendar on the wall of his cell believing that losing his sense of time would be an easy way to lose his grip and even his sanity. Nelson Mandela recalls how when he was handed a letter he would resist the urge to run forward and grab it but he would collect the letter in a leisurely manner not giving the authorities any satisfaction.
After a few months Nelson Mandela and his fellow prisoners were one day loaded on to a truck and dropped off at the lime quarry where they were told that they would be working at for the next six months. They ended up working at the quarry for the next thirteen years. With picks and shovels they had to break through layers of rock to get to the lime which was formed by calcified residue of seashells and coral. The work was designed to break the spirit of the prisoners but it had the opposite effect on Nelson Mandela. He preferred the outside where he could observe the birds overhead, see the trees, walk on the grass and feel the wind blowing from the sea.
The state thought that giving the prisoners on Robben Island study privileges would be harmless; but later they regretted their decision. Virtually all the prisoners with Nelson Mandela were studying and at night the cell block seemed more like a study hall. By 1966 the prisoners were allowed to talk as much as they liked while they were working together in clusters of four or five. They were constantly engaged in political debates and Mandela, who always enjoyed the cut-and-thrust of debating, was a ready participant.
One day on returning from the quarry Nelson Mandela was told to collect a telegram. The telegram was from his son Makgatho informing him that his mother had died of a heart attack. Nelson Mandela asked for permission to attend his mother's funeral but his request was turned down. Later Mandela once again received a telegram from his youngest son Makgatho. This time it was to inform him that his oldest son Thembi had been killed in a car accident and once again permission was denied for Nelson Mandela to attend the funeral.
In addition to Nelson Mandela's informal studies his legal work also continued within Robben Island. Mandela was spending much of his time preparing judicial appeals for other prisoners. In his free time Nelson Mandela was allowed to pursue what became two of his favourite hobbies, gardening and tennis. Almost from the beginning Mandela asked the authorities for permission to start a garden but was always refused permission. They eventually relented and he was allowed to cut a small garden on a narrow patch of earth. For Nelson Mandela planting a seed, watching it grow, tending it and harvesting offered a simple but enduring satisfaction. Mandela saw the garden as a metaphor for some aspects of his life. A leader also sows seeds, watches it grow and harvest the results. The leader has to take responsibility for what he cultivates, preserve what can be per served and eliminate what cannot succeed.
Nelson Mandela was one day suddenly transferred off Robben Island without the chance to say a proper goodbye to his fellow comrades of many years. He was transferred to Pollsmoor prison which was like a five star hotel in comparison to Robben Island but Nelson Mandela missed the natural splendor of the island in this world of concrete.