Bear with us - this is a long one! Apologies for not posting earlier - the wifi has been spotty.
On day five of our trip, we sailed to Robben Island. Thomas took the lead in introducing the area to us, noting that it was the foremost prison for black political prisoners during the apartheid area. While it served as a political prison from the 1960s until the end of apartheid, it has been used by the Dutch since the 1600s as an asylum, leper colony, and base of operations during World War II.
We were fortunate enough to have a former prisoner of Robben Island lead us through our tour, and he described the brutal conditions prisoners were held under, as they were tortured on a weekly basis and held in solitary confinement for extended periods.
Of course, Robben Island is also famous for imprisoning Nelson Mandela for 18 of 27 years of imprisonment. He was held in the individual cell pictured below.
On our return trip on the ferry, our group rode on the upper deck for stunning, unobstructed views of the southern tip of Africa.
We continued this scenic trend with a peninsular tour of Cape Town, having a picnic lunch on a beach by the Atlantic and making our way up Table Mountain for a beautiful view on the sprawling cape city.
Finally, we visited the South Africa Holocaust Center in Cape Town, which detailed how Jewish immigrants originally made their way to South Africa.
We wrapped up our fifth day of the trip by holding class at our hostel, discussing and journaling about the parallels between imprisonment at Robben Island and during the Holocaust, as well as between apartheid and the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany.
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Day six focused more heavily on discussion with local figures and youth, as we conducted a total of four (!) dialogues with various groups and organizations here in Cape Town. Our day began, as usual, with a presentation from one of our students about our upcoming visit. Today, Olivia presented Liberation Theology and its origins to us, as well as how it was used during the apartheid era.
Following her insightful introduction, we were treated to a conversation from the chairs of the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative, a group of local faith leaders who bring the community together with youth projects, dialogues, and education initiatives.
During our conversation, we brought our mission statement about educating the head, the heart, and the hand into the fold, also noting the mission of interfaith that our school's founder, D.L. Moody promoted.
We then made our way to the suburbs of Cape Town and Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. Roxy gave us a wonderful overview of the area - the garden is the most renowned of the nine South African botanical gardens, and it includes over 700 types of unique flora from South Africa. In fact, Kirstenbosch was founded in 1913 to preserve this flora, and it was the first botanical garden in the world have such a mission.
At the Garden, we met with renowned South African journalist Crystal Orderson, who shared her experiences of growing up during the apartheid era and beginning her career in the post-apartheid era. Crystal has travelled all over the world for her journalism, living and writing in England, Western Africa, and of course, South Africa. Together, we discussed the lasting effects of apartheid, including the systemic discrimination along lines of race, language and education that still manifest themselves in contemporary South Africa.
In the afternoon, after some background from Chris about the local mosques in Bo-Kaap, also known as the Malay Quarter (there are two Chris' on this trip, both from Maine, by the way!), we returned to Nurul Islam Mosque to meet with its imam, Sheg Shiraaj Johaar, and several members of his youth congregation. This was a wonderful opportunity for our students to interact with Cape Town youth around issues of racism, the burden of history, and education. Our students shared their experiences both at NMH and in their hometowns, discussing our Humanities curriculum and its integration of religion and introspection in NMH classrooms.
For dinner, we were joined by former Robben Island political prisoner, Vusumzi Mcongo and former prison warden Christo Brand. Mr. Brand is the former prison warden to, and personal friend of, President Nelson Mandela. We were also joined by Ingrid Askew, who is a dear friend of Susan Kennedy, our World Religions teacher.
In addition to sharing their experiences on Robben Island and with Nelson Mandela, both Christo and Vusumzi stuck around to sign copies of Christo's recent book, Nelson Mandela: My Prisoner, My Friend - each student received a copy of the text for free!
What a packed couple of days! We have arrived in Johannesburg, but as mentioned above, the wifi has been intermittent. I will do my best to update the blog when I can (and get more student voices involved!).