On Sunday, on his 92nd birthday, I remembered Nelson Mandela.
I knew he’d been in prison, heard of Robben Island even, but until I went to see for myself I couldn’t visualise what it meant.
I joined a small boat load of tourists for the thirty minute crossing from Cape Town to Robben Island, excited and curious about what awaited us.
As soon as we landed an awestruck silence shrouded us like a summer mist. A feeling of respect, almost that we shouldn’t intrude, came over me as we toured the small island in a coach, listening to an ex-inmate describe the harshest of regimes.
The apartheid system was strictly enforced. Only black political prisoners were sent to the island, white ones were kept elsewhere. Black prisoners received the worst level of rations and only white guards were employed, for fear of favouritism.
Can you begin to imagine spending 18 years in prison? I found it impossible to even contemplate. We peered through the bars at his tiny cell and were shown the quarry where he carried out hard labour.
But most moving for me was that wherever you are on the island you can look across to ‘freedom’, to Table Mountain and Cape Town, which appears but a stone’s throw away.
As I scanned through my photos on the return boat trip I was struck by the picture at the top of this post. Something about it made me pause.
Look at it again…
Can you see the heart shapes in the twisted razor wire?
I cried when I saw them.
Despite all that went on in that prison, love prevails. However much evil is in the world, love for our fellow man can overcome.
After his release Mandela went on to become the first black president of South Africa, and won the Nobel Peace prize jointly with Frederik de Klerk in 1993, for achieving a peaceful ending to apartheid.
Whatever it is that’s keeping you ‘in prison’ in your life, remember Nelson Mandela and how his love for his people prevailed.
He has shown us the way.
Don’t ever give up on yourself. There’s always another choice, even when it’s almost impossible to believe it.
Just keep believing … and remember the lesson of the razor wire…
‘It always seems impossible until it is done.’
Header image by cursedthing on Flickr, post images by the author.